A number of community leaders have come together to support members of Wabaseemoong Independent Nation who went without running water over the holidays.
Shortly before Christmas, the Wabaseemoong community lost all access to running water due to mechanical issues at their water treatment plant’s pumphouse and engineers were dispatched to investigate and repair any issues. Over 350 community members had to be evacuated as a result.
The Kenora Chiefs Advisory and Bimose Tribal Council say they are working around the clock to rectify the situation, water trucks and portable toilets have been deployed and staff are hoping to see things restored by next week.
“We are doing absolutely everything in our power to work as fast as we can so our membership who are displaced can return home, but we also have to make sure the problem is fixed properly and the mandatory safety steps are taken,” said Wabaseemoong Chief Waylon Scott.
The situation prompted the Kenora District Services Board and its CAO, Henry Wall, to act. He explains that through a unique partnership and the generosity of a local business owner, the KDSB was able to evacuate community members to Kenora’s Waterview Inn on Lakeview Drive.
“The owners of the Waterview Inn have graciously extended the lease for a couple of weeks,” explained Wall. “Now, it can be used to support families from Wabaseemoong who don’t have water. People can come and have showers and so forth. We’re hoping it’s just for a few more days. We’re very grateful.”
In December 2020, the Waterview Inn, formerly known as the Tower Motel, began accepting tenants in need of housing units through KACL, the All Nations Health Partners and the KDSB – who began leasing the building from its owners.
“We’re grateful that through the pandemic, we were able to support 20 people with housing and wraparound supports,” adds Wall. “It really was a housing-first approach. Some incredible success stories have come from that program.”
Wall explains that when the building’s lease expired on December 31, 2022, the original plan was to send the 20 residents living at the Waterview Inn to the new 30-unit supportive housing facility on Ninth Street North, but the building’s opening date has been pushed back to sometime this summer.
In the meantime, Wall says the KDSB was able to find those residents other housing units in the community until Ninth Street’s facility is completed.
That project is a partnership between the Kenora District Services Board and Ontario’s Aboriginal Housing Services. It aims to provide supportive housing for people transitioning from homelessness with various support services and is expected to be staffed 24 hours a day.
“To address some of the challenges that Kenora as a community is facing... we do need to have more housing options for people,” Wall adds. “And some of those housing options need to have adequate supports, especially cultural supports."
“That’s why we’re excited to open that 30-unit program. It’s been a long time coming. I think we’ll see a significant difference in the community when that opens up,” says Wall.
Wall notes that those 30 units on Ninth Street North will be in addition to another 20 self-contained bachelor units on Matheson Street South, but that project’s expected completion date has also been pushed back from March to April 2023, due to material delays.
This all comes as Wabaseemoong continues to work on upgrades to its Water Treatment Plant. In October, work started to upgrade the community’s lift and sewage pumping stations which are expected to be completed by June 2023.
Wabaseemoong, located north of Minaki up Highway 596 and Highway 525, has a listed population of 1,098 community members.