Residents from Wasagamack First Nation are renewing calls for a new grocery store after several people fell through the ice attempting to get to the store, which is located on an island.
Cell phone videos were circulated last week showing a group of people in Wasagamack, one of the most remote First Nations in Manitoba, attempting to push a boat across the treacherous ice breakup.
The crew was coming back from the community’s Northern Store which is located on the mainland.
Photos showing one man go through the ice were also posted to social media.
Marcel Monias documented people’s attempts to cross the lake.
He told APTN News about five people went through the ice in one day including a 73-year-old man.
“We’re just trying to understand why are we trying to risk our live just to try and get some butter and milk,” said Monias.
Monias said people falling through the ice happens every year. He added there haven’t been any fatalities.
Wasagamack is located in the Island Lake region of the province, which is about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
The nation is only accessible by winter roads or by boat from a neighbouring community.
During the winter people can drive on the winter road and in the summer people boat over.
In the spring and fall residents take their chances crossing the lake to get to the store.
“You have your vehicle and then you’ll have your snowmobile. Then you start to walk. That’s when it starts to get scary,” said Monias.
Monias estimates the walk from the mainland to the store is about 10 minutes.
The store has been at that location since 1966.
Many residents have been calling for the construction of a new store on the mainland. Right now there is a small convenience store but it is limited on grocery options.
“I’m hoping the Northern [Store] and my community will have a renegotiation where we can come to a terms where its really flexible,” said Monias.
The North West Company owns the Northern Store.
In a Ellen Curtis, media coordinator for the North West Company, said they are aware of the safety concerns and, “we have been actively working with Chief and Council regarding plans for a new, off-island location for the store. Although our discussions have been delayed due to the pandemic, we are optimistic that we will come to a mutually agreeable arrangement.”
She added the company has developed site plans, floor plans and a preliminary business terms as a result of discussions with chief and council.
A new chief was recently elected and Curtis said they have had initial discussions with him.
Leadership did not respond to APTN’s request for comment by deadline.
Monias said in the meantime the community has started breaking up the ice to create a safe path for boats to travel.