Shoal Lake 40 First Nation sues Winnipeg over century-old aqueduct impact, missing compensation

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Winnipeg aqueduct
The aqueduct underwent five years on construction that began in 1915. Test sections of the Winnipeg Aqueduct were displayed at the Exhibition Grounds as the project got under way. Photo Credit: Winnipeg Water and Waste Department / Manitoba Historical Society

The Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is suing the City of Winnipeg and the federal government for breaching their obligation to provide compensation they say was promised for interference with its reserves as a result of the construction and operation of a century-old water diversion system.

A statement of claim from the Shoal Lake community about 163 kilometres east of Winnipeg, says compensation was built into an aqueduct agreement when construction began in 1915, but never delivered on. 

The 150-km-long aqueduct was created to provide drinking water for Winnipeg, but it also isolated Shoal Lake 40 on a man-made island without road access, and prevented the community from building their own water treatment plant. This finally happened in 2021, ending 24 years of boil water advisories.

The lawsuit, which does not specify the amount of monetary compensation sought, states that the Greater Winnipeg Water District built a canal between Indian Bay and Snowshoe Bay on Shoal Lake that “severed Shoal Lake” and “left the community isolated on a man-made island without access to the mainland.”

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“For more than a century, the community could only be reached by ice road in the winter or boat in the summer,” notes the statement of claim. “Families were forced to relocate off-reserve to access basic health services and educational and professional opportunities. Costs associated with transporting building materials to the reserve soared, and the community struggled to maintain critical infrastructure, including roads and schools.”

The statement of claims also notes that community members have died over the years, falling through the ice or drowning as boats capsized in hard winds and waves.

The City of Winnipeg has not yet issued a public response to the allegations in the lawsuit. 

Just two months ago, a water fountain copper plaque site was dedicated to Shoal Lake 40 in downtown Winnipeg. The site had been constructed in 1970 to recognize the 50th anniversary of the supply of water to Winnipeg from Shoal Lake. The plaque was part of a refurbishment at the location.

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