Iso­lated Cana­di­ans wel­come high­way link­ing coun­try's south to Arc­tic Ocean

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Jesse Win­ter in Toronto

For most of her life, if Lav­erna Smith wanted a fresh cut of beef, she had to board a plane to fetch it from the near­est butcher. But as of this week, she will be able to hop in her truck and drive there any day of the year – al­though it will still be a round trip of 276km.

Canada’s first all-sea­son high­way link­ing the coun­try’s south to the Arc­tic ocean of­fi­cially opens on Wed­nes­day at 6am. The $300m gravel road stretches from the re­gional hub of Inu­vik to the coastal ham­let of Tuk­toy­ak­tuk in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries.

It will trace a warm line across the tun­dra, mak­ing it the coun­try’s only drive­able north-west pas­sage to the sea.

Smith hopes the new road will put an end to the iso­la­tion some­times felt by the 800 in­hab­i­tants of “Tuk”.

“Oh, it’s go­ing to be a to­tal im­pact, for sure,” Smith said. “We can just hop in a car and come down to Inu­vik when­ever we want.”

The high­way was first con­ceived in the 1960s, but the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries gov­ern­ment did not make its first pro­posal to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment un­til 1998, and was only granted $200m to­wards the project in 2009.

Through­out that time, a sea­sonal win­ter road al­lowed goods to be trucked over the ice to Tuk­toy­ak­tuk. But in warmer weather, the only ac­cess in or out was by plane.

Promised as the “road to re­sources” by the pre­vi­ous prime min­is­ter, Stephen Harper, the high­way is also seen as a way to strengthen ties be­tween com­mu­ni­ties north of the 60th par­al­lel, and those in what they refer to as the “Out­side”.

It was once also seen as a po­ten­tial sup­port for fu­ture fu­ture oil and gas de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion, be­fore the Trudeau gov­ern­ment last year an­nounced a joint Canada-US mora­to­rium on drilling in all Arc­tic wa­ters.

Like many in Tuk­toy­ak­tuk, Smith is hold­ing out hope that the road brings other ben­e­fits.

Smith is a part­ner in the End of the Road Inn, and hopes to cap­i­talise on the ex­pected in­crease in tourism by open­ing the town’s only sit-down restau­rant.

“We’re al­ready do­ing take-out,” Smith said. “We’re just wait­ing on the last few per­mits.”

Some lo­cal res­i­dents have ex­pressed con­cern that the new road could change the Tuk­toy­ak­tuk way of life. “Like all new things, it’ll take some time to set­tle in,” Smith said.

One worry is that the road could in­crease ac­cess to drugs and al­co­hol – some­thing many north­ern com­mu­ni­ties strug­gle with. In 2010, the ham­let put re­stric­tions on booze, lim­it­ing res­i­dents to 48 cans of beer or two litres of liquor, but boot­leg­ging per­sists.

Smith hopes that the new road will put the boot­leg­gers out of busi­ness. If any­one can drive to Inu­vik to buy al­co­hol, there will be no need to smug­gle it any­more, she said.

One of the big­gest ex­pected ben­e­fits will be a de­crease in the cost of food. Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 re­port, the NWT gov­ern­ment ex­pects the high­way will help re­duce the cost of food, fuel, and other goods by about $1.5m per year.

“Hope­fully the gro­ceries will come down a bit,” Smith said.

Canada is pre­par­ing to open its first all-sea­son high­way link­ing the coun­try’s south to the Arc­tic ocean. Pho­to­graph: the Gov­ern­ment of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries

‘Hope­fully the gro­ceries will come down a bit,’ says Lav­erna Smith. Pho­to­graph: the Gov­ern­ment of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries

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