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The lone road into this Sask. village is so bad some locals drive through the ditch


Residents of Saskatchewan’s oldest community say their highway is in such bad shape, the best path in and out of the village is through the ditch.

Aaron Fosseneuve says the official name of the road into his home community of Cumberland House is Highway 123, but locals joke it’s not as easy as 1-2-3 — “it’s more like a 4-5-6.”

“The highway actually had been good for a few years, [but] it has reached back to the level it was about eight years ago, when the road was voted one of the worst highways in Saskatchewan,” said Fosseneuve, who serves as principal at Ministik Community School.

Back then, he said vehicles had to be hauled on a semi-trailer to get past rough sections of the highway, “and it’s getting to that point again.”

Fosseneuve said the recent rainfall has made for very rough conditions on the only road in and out of town, and if it keeps raining, the highway will only get worse.

The Saskatchewan Highway Hotline has marked the 40-kilometre paved stretch of Highway 123, which runs from Highway 55 north of Carrot River, as subject to “heavy rutting, soft spots and blowouts.”

Cumberland House Mayor Ferlin Mackay said the paved portion of Highway 123 is full of basketball-sized potholes.

“The community calls that the bobble head road,” Mackay told CTV News in a phone interview Monday afternoon.

“The pavement has been neglected for so many years. They’ll patch and put a Band-Aid on it and leave it, and those Band-Aids keep popping out again.”

After the bobble head portion of Highway 123, at E.B. Campbell dam, the road turns to gravel — or at this time of year, mud.

Mackay said part of the problem is much of the gravel road is at ground level, so there’s nowhere for water to run off.

Fosseneuve says he just had seven student teachers arrive in the community for internships at Ministik school, and they were “traumatized” by the harrowing drive into town.

“They came in little cars. They’re worried as to whether or not they’ll be able to get out. If you don’t have a truck or SUV, you’re pretty much risking it,” he said.

If you get stuck somewhere in the approximately 100-kilometre stretch of gravel and mud highway leading to Cumberland House, there’s no cell service to call for help.

“You think this has motivated my interns to come work in northern Saskatchewan after seeing that highway? Yeah, absolutely not.”

Cumberland House celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, making it Saskatchewan’s oldest community.

Fosseneuve says his village deserves better, especially during such a milestone year.

“We’re tired of it … Nowhere [else] in Saskatchewan would a highway be allowed to be in that shape, especially the only road in or out,” he said.

Cumberland House residents rely on Highway 123 for all their supplies and services, says deputy mayor Veronica Favel.

“There’s so many services we don’t have in our community that we have to leave for,” she said. “Our medical, our groceries, our household anything …. You name it. We have to leave."

Fosseneuve told CTV News he wants Saskatchewan people to see the status of Highway 123, and he wants the Ministry of Highways to fix it.

In a statement to CTV News on Monday, the Ministry of Highways said it plans to spend about $3.3 million to improve Highway 123 this summer.

The ministry says it’s put a temporary restriction on truck weight to prevent additional damage to the gravel portion of the highway, and it’s working with trucking companies to ensure food, fuel and other key supplies can reach the community.

“This past weekend, the ministry placed about 130 tonnes (metric tons) — or about 15 truck loads — of rock material to strengthen a three kilometre segment of the road south of Cumberland House," the Ministry of Highways said in its emailed statement.

In 2019, the ministry says it completed a project to raise the grade and widen the road for 32 kilometres from Cumberland House and south.

Mackay says he’d like to see the ministry continue this work, raising the grade of the gravel portion and making sure there’s somewhere for water to run off.

Mackay says provincial road workers exacerbated issues on the gravel portion of the highway this spring, when they took out a culvert during some repairs.

He says he doesn’t know why they would take out a culvert during the wettest time of year, instead of waiting for a drier month.

In its statement to CTV on Monday afternoon, the ministry acknowledged it’s been a “challenging spring thaw.”

“The Ministry of Highways appreciates the patience and understanding of all motorists using Highway 123 on route to Cumberland House during what’s been a challenging spring thaw for this road, which has made it soft and challenging for it to handle heavier truck traffic until it dries out.”

Favel thinks forestry companies and SaskPower should also be contributing to keep their vital highway in working shape, since they make healthy profits off lumber and hydroelectric power generated in the area.

“These companies are benefitting, and we’re the ones deep in the ruts,” she said.

Favel says she’d like to see a 10-year plan in place to pave the rest of Highway 123 — paving 10 kilometres a year.

Cumberland House is approximately 450 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. Top Stories

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