Ontario cottagers hope for dialogue with First Nation that is denying them road use

An association that represents cottagers in northern Ontario is hoping that representatives from Washagamis Bay First Nation will sit down and talk about opening a road that is currently closed.

The road, near Lake of the Woods, has been blocked for nearly a year.

“All we are asking for is a chance, a chance to talk to Washagamis Bay and its leaders,” said Nancy Salmijarvi, South End Road Association (SERA) told a news conference.

“A chance to understand what happened, fix any problems that exist, and to reach a new agreement that keeps everyone safe and allows us to return to our previous relationship with our neighbours.”

SERA is an umbrella association of four road associations comprised of the Welcome Channel Road Association, the Northern Peninsula Road Association, the Gold Point Road Association and 1133406 Ontario Inc.

114 families

It said 114 families that use the Mackenzie Portage Road have been cut off since last July.

Washagamis Bay First Nation announced last summer it was ending road-use agreements for some permanent and seasonal property owners.

They previously told APTN News they were concerned with the amount of speeding, road use and guests coming in as reasons for terminating the agreement.

A spokesperson said there would be no negotiating when it came to the decision.

Representatives of Washagamis Bay did not respond to a request for comment from APTN for this story.

But SERA cited concerns with road access during medical emergencies.

Frozen lake

Wayne Warkentin said he was able to get to hospital in the winter via the frozen lake. But now the situation would be much different.

“We’d have been stuck out here with no way out of here, you know, and my wife by herself, it’s hard to say what would have happened,” Warkentin told the news conference.

“Now we’re concerned, we’re scared for ourselves, my family, for the other families that are out here. If something like this happens this time, things are going to get worse.”

Cottagers have to come and go by boat from nearby Kenora, and in the winter, by ice road.

There are roughly 200 or so property owners leasing land from the band until 2047 and they have not been impacted by this decision.

SERA said it doesn’t want to take legal action, but open a line of communication with the First Nation instead.

“We want to open the door to a dialogue. Doing anything else is disrespectful,” said Salmijarvi.

“First and foremost, I think we’d have to apologize. I’d like to say I’m sorry, and you know, go from there.”

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