One of the more interesting enterprises that our company, Skene Transfer and Supply, does is winter road freight. Every winter, we haul semi-trailer loads of freight into 29 isolated First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario. These are communities that are not accessible by permanent roads. All traffic in and out is by air, except for about three months during the winter. Each year, a system of temporary roads is created of ice and snow, over the lakes and rivers and through the bush, connecting the communities with the outside world. A year's supply of groceries, building materials, diesel fuel -- nearly everything you can think of -- is transported over the ice roads.
|Load of building materials
ready to go
|Though the woods...||...more through the woods...||...still more through the woods!|
The roads open for light traffic in early January, but it is usually mid-February before the ice on the lakes is thick enough (36") to carry a fully-loaded tractor-trailer. Most years, the roads begin to break up around the end of March, so we have a six-week window to get our freight delivered. This year, with a slightly longer season than usual, we are on track to deliver over ninety loads before the creeks start to flow and the snow bridges break down.
|Approaching a lake crossing||Max 15 kph on the ice||At least the ride is
smooth on the ice!
|Sometimes it isn't so
pretty out on the lake!
Rules for driving on the ice are very strict: Max 15 kilometres per hour (about 9 mph), 25 kph empty. Trucks must maintain at least one km spacing; passing is forbidden. Never stop on the ice. Empty trucks and loaded trucks must meet, but the roads on the ice are ploughed 300 feet wide and they swing as wide as possible and reduce speed.
|Crossing Weagamow Lake||Some of the
roads cross huge
stretches of black spruce muskeg
|Traffic jam at
one of the landings
Driving the winter roads is hard work; the hours are long, the stress level is high and the rough terrain takes a toll on your body. Still it is an interesting and fascinating experience and one gets to visit places that most never see.