GJOA HAVEN, NU. - Imagine how you'd feel; you're given the right to self-determination and none of the tools to make it happen.That's the plight of Canada's newest territory, Nunavut (which means "Our...
GJOA HAVEN, NU. – Imagine how you’d feel; you’re given the right to self-determination and none of the tools to make it happen.
That’s the plight of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut (which means “Our land” in the Inuktitut language).
A major goal for Nunavut, as it finds its self-government feet, is to build a land link with the rest of Canada. Right now, the only way to get stuff in or out of the place is by plane of by boat.
Last February, Nunavut premier Paul Okalik signed a memorandum of understanding with Manitoba premier Gary Doer calling for cooperation on the development of a highway, which, once built, would run through some of the least-populated regions on earth.
Born on Apr. 1, of last year, the territory occupies roughly half of the area once known only as the Northwest Territories.
Even though part of the proposed rout would run through the bush of northern Manitoba, the highway is clearly a Nunavut idea.
“We see the road as furthering both economic and social development,” says Jim Stevens, manager of transport planning, on the phone from his office in Gjoa Haven, a town of about 1,000 people located 700 miles north of Yellowknife.
“We also see roads providing for cost reduction in community re-supply,” says Stevens, who is chief planner for the road. Right now, the only way freight gets delivered is by barges out of Churchill, Man., which only sail from July to the end of September, says Stevens. The rest of the year, the Arctic Ocean and Hudson’s Bay are icebound.
“We see a road system evolving from a winter road, to an all-weather road,” Stevens explains.
A winter road, “is basically a plowed trail across the land, and (runs) largely across lake bodies and river beds.” The design calls for the use of lakes because they reduce the amount of clearing required.
“In Nunavut, our clearing doesn’t mean clearing brush. Rather, it means clearing boulders,” Stevens says. Most of Nunavut is north of the treeline. The road would branch off Manitoba’s network, possibly near Lac Brochette, and then make its way north.
Rankin Inlet, in southern Nunavut and the first community on the route, is about 1,000 to 1,300 kilometres away, depending on the exact corridor used. Other villages and mines would be added as the road stretches out. The route would feature emergency shelters – cabins stocked with food, water and stoves – and trucks running it probably would require global positioning systems (GPS), to watch if they get stranded. Also, a system would be established where emergency-response teams could be flown in to rescue the stranded and clean up any environmental spills. What’s the price tag for building a winter road? About $20 million is the current estimate, with annual maintenance fees running about $6 million to $7 million. For an all-season version? About $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion to build, with maintenance being about the same.
And that would be for a single-lane gravel highway, a common design in Yukon and N.W.T. Stevens can see a day when the road is paved. It would be paid in part by Ottawa, which already foots the bill for the barge system and gets all revenues from Nunavut’s resource development. Stevens admits the project is big, but necessary.
“We aren’t looking for Just-In-Time delivery, we’re just looking for delivery,” he jokes. n