The long and winding road

Anyone who pays attention to news in Northwestern Ontario probably already knows about the Pelican Falls road, but I’m going to assume that the state of our local thoroughfares are not of interest to a lot of people who may be reading this.

The Pelican Falls road connects Pelican Falls First Nations High School, a boarding school for Native teenagers from all over the north, to Highway 664, which in turn links to the small town of Hudson on one end and Highway 72 on the other. The Pelican Falls road is the only way into and out of the school, although I suppose you could land a float plane or helicopter if you really had to. The point is, anyone dealing with the school in any way has to travel that road, be it teachers and staff, students’ families, emergency services, supply vehicles, and yes, the media. That’s me!

This road is, in a word, awful. It was actually voted Ontario’s worst road by CAA last year, thanks to the gigantic potholes, frost heaves, ruts, patchy pavement, and nearly every other bad thing you could think of. There are paths carved along the shoulders in some part where someone decided it’d be easier to drive in the ditch than on the road, and others followed suit. Bus drivers have refused to drive down this road and I really don’t blame them. Apparently, ambulances refuse to travel it, too. The road itself is a point of contention between the municipality and a nearby First Nations community, and has been through the courts repeatedly to try and determine who, exactly, is supposed to maintain it.

I’ve travelled this road many a time, usually with a bit of trepidation. Even in the middle of summer I stick it in four-wheel drive because the graded dirt is more like a washboard than smooth and that sends the back end of my truck sliding like it’s on ice. The road is actually easier to drive in winter, mainly because the packed down ice and snow makes a smooth surface that levels out the gravel and fills in the potholes.

I was thrilled to find out last week that a bunch of First Nations communities sending their youth to school at Pelican banded together to fund road repairs. It’s not a complete solution as they’re basically just doing touch-up work as they can, but I drove the road today and I can tell you, honestly, that this is the first time I have ever driven to Pelican in two-wheel drive at a speed higher than 40km/h. In comparison, last week when the road was in its usual state, Matt actually took it on himself to drive me out there when I had to cover something past dark because I was so reluctant to travel it at night.

I was stopped here for about five minutes, just short of the school. I don’t envy the people flagging in this kind of cold.

It’s kind of bizarre to see road construction and stop for flaggers in December, but I can’t believe what a difference even this touch-up work has made. As someone who experiences that road on a frequent basis and is usually white-knuckling the steering wheel, I commend everyone involved in fixing it up. Kudos!

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