During the coldest months of the year, the communities of James Bay are connected to Ontario’s highway network by the Wetum Road — a frozen road that stretches about 170 kilometres from Moose Factory to Otter Rapids, Ont. During its three years of operation, the Wetum Road has served as a lifeline for thousands in the region; it opens up an annual flow of essential goods and supplies with the south, and connects the communities.
But now, all of that is changing. The unpredictable climate means the road is open for less time, shrinking the already-small window that residents have to move goods and visit friends and family without the expense of a plane ticket.
A year-round road is currently in the planning stages, but where it will go and what form it will take is still to be determined. Permanent road access would change the shape of remote communities, opening up new economic opportunities and paving the way for new challenges. Earlier this year, TVO.org's Michael Lehan and John Michael McGrath explored the Wetum Road to learn more about what the future could hold for the people who rely on it.
Stories from the Wetum Road
Rural Ontario is having a tough time hanging on to young people, but the picture is even more grim in communities without year-round road access. Beth Baxter, 18, had to look elsewhere to get the education she wanted and doesn’t plan to return to her hometown of Moosonee after graduation. Read More
Roger and Rhoda Regular run the Regular Stop and the Sky Ranch Restaurant in Moosonee, where on top of all the usual challenges that come with running a restaurant , they must also handle unpredictable supply lines and labour shortages. Read More
Muskeg is mushy in the summer and frozen solid in the winter. The landscape of northern Ontario is criss-crossed by countless streams and rivers. Building a 500 kilometre all-season road would be a massive undertaking requiring efforts from all parties, cutting-edge engineering and loads of heavy materials. Read More
Human-driven climate change has led to warmer winters, meaning a shorter season for the ice roads of the north. Goods must still be shipped, but it has to happen in less time. In the future, the temperature could rise so much as to make ice roads no longer an option. Government figures estimate that winters could warm by as much as 10 degrees in the north by the year 2100 if massive changes to emissions aren’t made. Read More
The ice roads of the James Bay
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