Getting connected to Ontario’s power grid isn’t the only thing this remote First Nation community has to celebrate. It also has new housing for more than 100 of its roughly 600 residents.
Wunnumin Lake First Nation added more than 30 housing units in 2022 and 2023, Coun. Luke McKay said in an interview last week while the First Nation celebrated its connection to Wataynikaneyap Power’s transmission line.
The new units would have been possible with diesel generators powering the reserve, McKay said, “but it’s good timing that Watay Power came in, because now we don’t have to burn more fuel (to supply electricity to the new homes).”
Materials for building are difficult to get into communities that, like Wunnumin Lake, rely on ice roads for delivery, he said.
Supplies must be ordered no later than September to be sure they’re ready for shipment by ice road season in January and February, and it's unknown how long the coming winter road season will be. Sometimes it’s more than six weeks, and in some winters it’s considerably shorter.
And it’s all rather expensive, McKay added.
“To build a house up here, it’s going to cost you half a million dollars,” he said.
Building materials are pricey because of transportation costs, and those costs get even higher if you have to fly something in.
Housing coordinator Robert McKay added that it’s commonplace to have to order some materials in, as modular homes often come somewhat incomplete.
“That always happens, even though the suppliers say they shipped everything,” he said.
Even with the new homes, the housing coordinator said, “there is still a long list of people who want new homes.”
He’s not one on that wait list, though. “I’m living in an old building from the early ’90s and I don’t mind it,” he said. “As long as it keeps me away from the elements.”
The new homes will benefit from a reliable power source, Chief Sam Mamakwa said.
“The system that we had, which is diesel generation, I think would have had a problem getting enough power to those new housing units that we have,” he said.
“But now, seeing the grid connection … there are no worries there. There’s no problem there.”