Water – Shoal Lake, Winnipeg’s Water Source

Information on this page relates most to Idle No More Manitoba themes:

2 - enviro sustain       5 - history       5 - advocacy

Shoal Lake is home to two First Nations who are affected by Winnipeg accessing Shoal Lake water.  Residents of Iskatewizaagegan or Shoal Lake 39 have asserted that the removal of water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg has had negative impacts on wild rice harvesting and has eroded shore lines.  Shoal Lake 40, however, does not have access to clean drinking water from the lake.  As of 2014, they have been on a boil water advisory for over 15 years.

For nearly 100 years (since 1919, after 6 years of aqueduct and other construction) people living in Winnipeg have received access to clean drinking water from an aqueduct that was built to carry water from Shoal Lake, Ontario into Winnipeg.

This page has information about:

-Winnipeg’s water supply, including the history of building the Shoal Lake aqueduct & current information about the supply

-information about the 2 First Nations communities at Shoal Lake

-information about the water quality and access for First Nations peoples living at Shoal Lake

-media articles about legal actions and water rights at Shoal Lake
*Hint:  this is your place to stay up to date with what’s going on!

General Resources

Video.  Shoal Lake 40 – The Road Home.
The links below take you to a short documentary about water and Shoal Lake #40.  It aired as part of APTN’s “One With Nature” program.  It is a good introduction to a Shoal Lake community and the issue of water access.  Running time is about 30 minutes.

Shoal Lake 40 – The Road Home. Part 1
Shoal Lake 40 – The Road Home. Part 2
Shoal Lake 40 – The Road Home. Part 3

2002. Shoal Lake Watershed Management Plan
by the Shoal Lake Watershed Management Working Group

This report, which was submitted to provincial (Manitoba and Ontario) and federal governments, as well as to both Iskatewizaagegan/Shoal Lake 39 and Shoal Lake 40 (there was a representative for each First Nation on the Working Group) provides information about many different aspects of Shoal Lake.

You will find sections on water quality, the history of water access by Winnipeg, references to the first studies done about the lake, information about industries (e.g., fishing, mining and forestry) in and around the lake and much more.

The report is broken up into small section to make finding what you want to read much easier.  The bibliography – or the list of information sources used to help write the report – is very helpful if you want to do more research.

1914.  “In the matter of the application of the Greater Winnipeg Water District for approval of the diversion of the waters of the Lake of the Woods and Shoal Lake for sanitary and domestic purposes.”
Produced by the International Joint Commission

This is the original document that gave Winnipeg access/rights to use Shoal Lake for the city’s water supply.  It is a document of the International Joint Commission (IJC).

About the International Joint Commission
The IJC is was created in the early 1900s to help Canada and the United States make decisions about bodies of water that the 2 countries have in common.  The IJC is still active and plays a role in the current legal actions being undertaken by the First Nations communities at Shoal Lake (you will see the IJC mentioned in news articles about the issue).

Winnipeg’s Water Supply – History and Today

2002.  “Winnipeg’s Water:  Our Most Essential Resource”
produced by the City of Winnipeg, Water and Waste Department

This brochures provides a short history of the building of the Shoal Lake aqueduct as well as information about Winnipeg’s water access and treatment today.  It is written from the perspective of the City of Winnipeg.

2004.  “Urban Water Quality: Shoal Lake”
site information by Kent Patterson, hosted by the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Architecture

This website has short sections about many aspects of Shoal Lake – including history and current-day water quality and access.


This article in the Manitoba history publication Manitoba Pageant talks about the decisions leading up to the building of the Shoal Lake aqueduct.  It has a focus on Winnipeg-based politicians and engineers.  The article does not mention Indigenous peoples or communities.
by Cornelius S. Proden, Winter, 1979, Manitoba Pageant

This very short piece from the Manitoba Historical Society talks about how the Shoal Lake aqueduct came to be.

The first report about Winnipeg using Shoal Lake for it’s water supply was written in 1912 by a consultant and professor from Wisconsin named Charles Slichter.  He wrote that Shoal Lake would be an ideal supply.  Here is a newspaper article from the Manitoba Free Press, September 9, 1912 that talks about Charles Slichter’s recommendation.

Shoal Lake First Nations communities

“So near, so far. At the mouth of the aqueduct there is no water to drink.”
by Crystal Greene and Alexandra Paul, January 8, 2011, Winnipeg Free Press

This article provides a good description of what life is like without access to clean water for Shoal Lake residents.

Community profile information for Iskatewizaagegan /Shoal Lake #39 First Nation. 
The population numbers are from 2006 but other information – such as the Chief and Council listings and federal transfer funding information are more recent.
produced by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

Community profile information for Shoal Lake #40 First Nation 
The population numbers are from 2006 but other information – such as the Chief and Council listings and federal transfer funding information are more recent.
produced by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

This article, from April, 2013 in the Kenora Daily Miner, talks about the “Freedom Road” for Shoal Lake #40 being recently completed.  The road provides access from the First Nation to the Trans Canada highway.  Before the road existed the only way to get supplies into the community was to take a barge from the neighbouring First Nation, Iskatewizaagegan /Shoal Lake #39.

Water Quality for Shoal Lake First Nations Communities – Reports/Studies

2001.  “Assessment Study of Water and Wastewater Systems and Associated Water Management Practices in Ontario First Nations Communities – Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake #39)”
produced by the Ontario Clean Water Agency & the Bimose Tribal Council

In the News

News from 2014

July 10, 2014, CBC
Human Rights Museum needs to act on First Nations rights to water
by Wab Kinew

July 10, 2014, Kenora Online
Shoal Lake 40 shares stories of devastation and anger
by Grace Protopapas

July 10, 2014, Winnipeg Free Press
Living in isolation. Shoal Lake gives Winnipeg water but band must endure consequences
by Mary Agnes Welch  *This story includes slide show of images.

July 9, 2014, Kenora Online
Shoal Lake 40 talking with Human Rights Museum reps today
by Grace Protopapas

July 9, 2014, Winnipeg Free Press
Canal that supplies clean water to Winnipeg blocks progress in Shoal Lake nation
by Mary Agnes Welch

July 9, 2014, Winnipeg Free Press
First Nation wants recognition of ‘injustices’ it suffers because of water canal supply

June 3, 2014, CBC
First Nation offended by Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Press Release, May 27, 2014
Use of Shoal Lake Water Makes Museum “A Shrine to Canadian Hypocrisy” Shoal Lake #40 FN Chief Questions Human Rights Museum Architect 

from Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nation about letters sent to the architect of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Antoine Predock.  The subject is the Museum’s access to water from Shoal Lake.  Attached to the press release is 2007 letter sent to Predock (not response received) and a second letter sent in May, 2014.

April 16, 2014, Kenora Daily Miner
Shoal Lake 39 students travel country to learn about First Nations water issues
by Alan S. Hale
*Here is a description of the project the students were involved inWater I ❤ U (Water: I Love You) supported by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources.

News from 2013

June 6, 2013, Winnipeg Free Press:
“First Nations vow to sustain court battle – not stopping despite Assiniboine plan.”
by Bartley Kives

June 5, 2013, Winnipeg Free Press:
“River is CentrePort’s water fix – solution may increase cost of major project.”
by Martin Cash and Bartley Kives

May 10, 2013, Winnipeg Free Press:
“Possibility of Rosser annexation resurfaces in water dispute.”
by Andrea Geary

May 9, 2013, Wawatay News:
“Shoal Lake water sales rejected by IJC.”
by Shawn Bell

May 1, 2013, Winnipeg Free Press:
“City-border expansion eyed for CentrePort water supply – may annex part of RM of Rosser.”
by Bartley Kives

April 6, 2013, Aljazeera
Indigenous Canadians push for water rights. Group in Ontario using protests, online activism and blockades to seek more access to natural resources
*This piece includes a short video.

March 29, 2013
Canada’s Indigenous thirsty for water rights. Plans to build port and sell lake water enrage First Nations community, who say they will not share in the benefits
by Daniel Lak *Note:  a commenter on our site had this correction “The Al Jazeera reporter incorrectly states the length of the desperately needed all-weather Freedom Road. It is actually 27 km, 9 of which are on the reserve.”

January 10-11, 2013, Globe and Mail
Winnipeg, native band battle over water
by Kim Mackrael

News from 2012

December 29, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:
“Legal fight to erupt over Winnipeg water – Shoal Lake bands count on Commission’s ruling.”
by Jen Skerritt

December 12, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:
“City will ask Commission for decision on extending water services.”
by Jen Skerritt

December 20, 2012, Wawatay News:
“Shoal Lake #40 will block Winnipeg’s attempt to sell water.”
by Shawn Bell

December 11, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:
“Canada-U.S. group turns of tap – Commission has ‘issues’ with City water plan.”
by Bartley Kives and Jen Skerritt

July 1, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:  “Neighbouring reserve joins suit again city – Shoal Lake No. 40 in water fight.”
by Alexandra Paul

April 15, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:  “Reserve fight city in court – Shoal Lake band wants to quash water deals.”

January 19, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:  “Shoal Lake First Nation to take legal action against City.”
by Jen Skerritt

January 13, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:  “City owes nothing to reserve in water dispute, official says.”
by Jen Skerritt

January 12, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:
“Ontario eyes City’s water plan – review to see if RM deals violate historic agreements.”
by Jen Skerritt

January 11, 2012, Winnipeg Free Press:
“City has no agreement with First Nation despite $8-M charges: Katz.”
by Jen Skerritt

January 11, 2012, Winnipeg Free Pres:
“First Nation sends City bills for water use – threatening to take legal action.”
by Jen Skerritt

News from 2011

October 27, 2011, Wawatay News:
“Shoal Lake #39 members occupy water source.”
by Chris Kornacki

September 7, 2011, Winnipeg Free Press:
“First Nation vows water fight – opposes City’s proposed sales to neighbouring municipalities.”
by Bartley Kives

September 6, 2011, Winnipeg Free Press:
“First Nations threatens to block Shoal Lake of the Woods – cites concerns over Winnipeg’s plan for water.”
by Bartley Kives

July 13, 2011, Winnipeg Free Press:
“Ontario First Nation opposes city sewer-water deal with RM.”
by Bartley Kives

6 thoughts on “Water – Shoal Lake, Winnipeg’s Water Source

  1. Pingback: WARRIOR UP! | North End MC

  2. Thanks for helping to get the story out. The rest of Canada and the world are coming to know the story of injustice behind Winnipeg’s water too. You might want to add the following story from the Globe and Mail national edition,

    and these two other Al Jazeera articles on Shoal Lake #40 First Nation to your links:

    (The Al Jazeera reporter incorrectly states the length of the desperately needed all-weather Freedom Road. It is actually 27 km, 9 of which are on the reserve.)

  3. Hi Cuyler: Thanks very much for this and apologies for the delay in replying. We have just updated this page to include the most recent round of news about the visits by Cdn Museum of Human Rights staff (and others) to Shoal Lake, in response to Chief Redsky’s most recent letter.

    We have also gone back and included the 2 Aljazeera links you suggested (along with your correction of one of them).

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for the updates. It would help enormously in the struggle for just solutions if you could assist in clarifying the factual distinctions between the two Shoal Lake communities. The government and the mainstream media keep confusing the two and in the process, diminishing the strength of each and the alliance of both.

      The stories are very, very different. Here’s a few examples: Drinking water and Waste treatment -Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation has a state of the art water treatment plant and piped fire protection throughout the community. They also have a system of piped sewage collection and a state of the art sewage treatment plant – you can literally drink the effluent. These have been in place for about 14 years. – I know because I was involved in the the fight for both of them. -Shoal Lake #40 First Nation, on the other hand, has been on a boil water order since February of 1997. AANDC has done several water treatment studies and their latest conclusion is that it’s too expensive to provide water treatment and piped fire protection to SL40 because of the high construction costs on a man-made island and, after all, the population is going down. Shoal Lake #40’s only sewage treatment is some septic fields that were built 25 years ago to pacify the City of Winnipeg. Health Canada has confirmed that these are now worn out and failing but there is no sand and gravel available on the man-made island to replace them. AANDC will not replace these saying it’s their policy that homeowners are responsible for replacing their own septic fields.

      Safe, secure access -Iskatewizaagegan has a hard-topped secondary Ontario highway (673) to the reserve. They have a large gravel supply and typical gravelled rez roads. Ontario has offered to help subsidize the internal roads but Iskatewizaagegan #39 chooses to retain control over public access to their territory. They use a seasonal toll booth system instead. -Shoal Lake #40 has no road access and the only possible way to get to the reserve is to trespass across someone else’s territory (either Iskatewizaagegan #39 or City of Winnipeg water intake land.) Once you have trespassed, you still have to cross water to get to the ‘man-made’ island either by private boat or the ferry. SL #40 must pay for the ferry by taking money out of all program funding. No dedicated funding is provided by either the Province or Canada to run the ferry. Roads are mostly classified as ‘mud trails’ because Shoal Lake #40’s entire gravel supply was given to the City of Winnipeg. The City used it to build the water diversion works. No provincial subsidies are available to SL 40 because the internal rez roads are not connected to any public roads in either province.

      Lands taken and the division of remaining lands. -100 years ago, over 3500 acres of land was stolen (expropriated) from Shoal Lake #40 and given to the Greater Winnipeg Water District. They built the aqueduct and dug a canal through the SL 40 reserve which cut the community off from access to the mainland. The ‘expropriation’ cut the reserve into three separate parcels that cannot be accessed without crossing the area ‘occupied’ by Winnipeg. Security cameras and no-trespassing signs stop anyone going from one part of SL 40 reserve to the other. – No land was taken from Iskatewizaagegan#39 Independent First Nation for the water diversion. Access to the mainland is unobstructed and both IR #39 and IR 39A reserves are whole and intact.

      Shared interests: There aren’t some very important negative impacts that are shared by both communities. Some of these include the lowering of general Shoal Lake water quality caused by sucking lower grade Lake of the Woods water into Shoal Lake; the impacts on fish and the suppression of virtually all economic opportunities in the shared traditional area.

      But the level of impact and the specific rights affected in each of the two communities is dramatically different. Fair and just solutions will need to honour those differences. If the fight for justice is to be successful the issues of difference and the issues of alliance should be kept clear. You can help maintain that clarity. Thanks, Cuyler Cotton Policy Analyst, Shoal Lake #40 First Nation

      • Hi Cuyler:

        Hugely helpful – thank you. As you can see the page is a collection of links to sources (versus us writing about topics in which we may not hold expertise). As the person updating these “LEARN” pages I was aware of some – though certainly not all – the differences between #40 and #39 that you’ve written above.

        I’ll leave your comment posted to help educate others but would you be able to point me to a source (or 2 or 3) that summarizes the differences you’ve highlighted? I will be happy to post and highlight them on the page.

        Thank again,

        Monique W. for idlenomoremanitoba.com

      • As I mentioned, the media and the government lump all First Nations together – “What the heck do “THEY” want?” Then the powers that be use that generalization as a rationalization for doing nothing. “See, they’re divided. When they get their act together, we will be happy to talk to them. Until then, we can ignore them.” It’s hard to find balanced, accurate reporting by mainstream media. Even FN press gets stuff wrong. Having a generic “Shoal Lake” page almost encourages generalization and confusion but it can hardly be avoided.

        One way to minimize the confusion might be to underline to browsers that it’s a complex story, remind them that the media sometimes gets confused and encourage them to go to the First Nation’s websites for the most accurate statement of the issues. I know that Shoal Lake #40 has been posting information and it is most is screened for accuracy. Original news releases etc. are also posted. ( http://www.sl40.ca ) Joint declarations between the two First Nations and reports on joint meetings and gatherings are also posted on these websites. Shoal Lake #40 is also hashtagged at #shoallake40

        Thanks for being there …and being aware! :c)

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