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Gillam News Stories


Originally Gillam was a point on the Hudson Bay Railway that had its first growth spurt during the construction of the rail line in the early years of the 20th century. Once railway and the bridge at Kettle Rapids had been completed, the construction workers left, but Cree hunters, who had relocated there to take advantage of the railway, remained to become the nucleus of the Fox Lake First Nation. There were also a few others from Southern Manitoba, storekeepers, police, and clergy that also remained, and their numbers greatly increased with the development of Hydro generating stations in the 1960s.

The news summaries below, organised by topic, are designed to reflect the interests of the Hydro community and the Fox Lake First Nation. They are also included in this educational site to better inform the school and its students about local news, so that they can add their voices to discussion about the region’s present issues and future development. To do so, however, they need to be critical thinkers, able to sift through information and make sense of it.

For copyright reasons, the following news stories are summaries rather than verbatim copies of the original newspaper articles. They include comments and questions that are designed to model critical thinking through analysis, so that students can get into the habit of reading critically themselves. For example, how informative is the article? Does it clarify issues? Does the writer display bias? Are any questions left unanswered? What new information is revealed? How does it add to the topic at hand? Is the reader left hanging? Readers should also consider the biases of the person summarising the article. Did he deliberately leave anything out? Was his interpretation of the news story helpful? Was he leading the reader in any way?



19 January 2008: “Wuskwatim bidder backs out” [Winnipeg Free Press, A9]

Mary Agnes Welch reported that Kiewit Corporation, the only bidder for the Wuskwatim dam project, pulled out of negotiations with Manitoba Hydro in early January 2008 over the terms of the agreement. Hydro had no choice but to invite bids from other construction firms that had not submitted previously. According to Hydro president Bob Brennan, this could delay the dam, which was scheduled to open as early as 2011, and increase costs to an estimated $1.5 billion. Escalating construction costs are the major worry, a concern echoed by Progressive Conservative Hydro critic Cliff Cullen, who wondered what impact this turn of events would have on the construction of the Conawapa dam and the “transmission line needed to ship power from the northern dams to Winnipeg.”[1] The deal needed to be in place by the spring to ensure the work on the dam could start on time. In the meantime, Hydro has carried on with “access road and camp construction, excavation and the building of the cofferdam, the temporary barrier needed to build the permanent dam.[2]

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20 January 2008: “A dam nearly UNKNOWN: The Keeyask generator is a big plan with a low profile” [Winnipeg Free Press, A10]

Mary Agnes Welch began this article by stating that the Keeyask, or Gull Rapids, generating station would flood “46-square-kilometres”[3]

Although the new dam would be built “in the next decade” on the Nelson River, Welch thought it “odd”[4] that it was so little known, especially since Manitoba Hydro had “dominated the Manitoba legislature” in 2007. However, as she herself pointed out in the next sentence, debate had “raged in minute detail” over the BiPole III power line[5] and considerable attention had also been given to “regular reports” about the “work started on the $1.1-billion” Wuskwatim Dam,” facts that may have explained why Keeyask had missed the radar. But there was no story in such a mundane explanation, as most journalists know. If there is the implication of conspiracy, or a cover-up, the reader is more apt to continue reading. Building on the “odd” fact that Keeyask was unknown, Welch noted that even though it would “churn out three times as much power as Wuskwatim” it had “received virtually no scrutiny, even though it’s massive.”[6]

In spite of this kind of introduction, no revelation was forthcoming. Instead, in her interview with Hydro president Bob Brennan, Welch learned that Keeyask was on hold. And, if Conawapa, which was scheduled for completion in 2021, took precedence, Keeyask could be delayed far into the future.[7] Hydro would not know its electricity needs until negotiations with American and Canadian utility companies were finalised, at which time both dams could be needed. Consequently, there appeared to be nothing particularly “odd” about the lack of “scrutiny” into the project at that time.

Welch next dealt with the revenue-sharing deals with First Nations that had now become part of any hydro project in Northern Manitoba. Four Cree bands – Tataskweyak [Split Lake], Fox Lake, War Lake, and York Factory – had been in negotiations with Hydro for seven years, and a deal was expected in March 2008. It included “training and employment opportunities for band members, construction logistics, compensation for flooding, and most importantly, the details of an ownership deal that could see the First Nations reap millions in revenue.” Once the agreement was complete, it would be voted on in the community, following a pattern similar to that followed by Hydro with Nelson House.

According to Welch, that agreement resulted in a band-approved deal in 2006 that will give the community “a third of Wuskwatim, assuming the band can cobble together its share of the capital investment.” Translated into dollars that is “about $100 million in power profits into the northern community for the first 25 years Wuskwatim runs, not to mention millions more in construction and service contracts the band has secured.”[8] According to Brennan, Keeyask was expected to “be much more lucrative for the four bands, which will share a 25 percent ownership stake in Keeyask,” although “no one will reveal the latest details of the negotiations.”[9]

Welch concluded her article with a report on the pros and cons of the agreements. Some band members were concerned about the $14 million spent by the band to negotiate the deal, even though Hydro had promised compensation. Others were concerned about the flooding, which although “a fraction of that caused by large dams built a generation ago,” would still alter “people’s hunting, fishing, trapping and traditional ways of life.” For others, there is a profound suspicion of Hydro, which “destroyed so much aboriginal land with dam projects in the 1960s and 1970s.”[10] On the other hand, the cash flow from Keeyask will help lift aboriginal communities “out of poverty by building housing and roads, expanding sewer and water service and improving health care.”

In the words of Victor Spence, Tataskweyak’s lead negotiator, “Most first nations don’t have any economic base at all, no resources. We’re looking at Keeyask as a positive economic relationship with Manitoba Hydro. All we want is a fair and reasonable deal.”[11]

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13 March 2008: “Wuskwatim price tag balloons 60%” [Winnipeg Free Press, A4]

Even though it had no one to build it, Manitoba Hydro was moving on with the Wuskwatim Project. In a March 2008 article, Mary Agnes Welch illuminated some of the difficulties that the corporation faced in order to get the project off the ground. These issues were raised at a meeting of the Public Utilities Board, which was considering an application by Manitoba Hydro for a 2.9% rate hike in 2008. Among the problems were the rising costs of construction, which were up 60% to an estimated $1.6 Billion, and the inability of the corporation to find a contractor to take on the job. The solution to the latter problem was to break construction down into smaller chunks in the hope that it would result in increased bids. There was also a problem with Canada’s higher dollar, which was discouraging buyers from across the line, even though Minnesota Power had agreed in January to purchase 250 megawatts and other deals were in the works. There was a question of how committed buyers were to “green” energy, as North Dakota was building a new coal-fired electrical plant that would generate much more electricity than Wuskwatim.

In spite of these problems, officials expected power prices to remain high, and even if the initial projection of a 10% return for the new hydro generating station had been eroded by rising costs, it was still a profitable venture. It would also be needed in future to meet Manitoba’s own projected power demands.

Discussion: There is already evidence that the public is not fully committed to “green” hydroelectric power. What happens if the bubble bursts, and the link between hydro-carbons and global warming is broken? What impact would this have on public perception of coal-fired generators in the United States? How could this affect sales of hydroelectricity here?

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22 March 2008: “New tender for Wuskwatim” [Winnipeg Free Press, B8]

In an March 2008 article, journalist Larry Kusch wrote that Manitoba Hydro was re-tendering “the main portion of the $1.6-billion Wuskwatim hydro generating project” in May and hoped to award the contract by late summer. Site preparation was almost completed on “the 200-megawatt generating station on the Burntwood River, 45 kilometres southwest of Thompson.” It involved “excavating the ‘overburden’ around the dam structure and spillway channel and excavating rock for fill for the Stage 1 coffer dam (the temporary enclosure in the river that’s drained so that construction can be done under the waterline).”

Hydro was splitting the remaining work into two contracts, one for a little more preliminary work (further rock excavation, rock crushing, etc.) and the other for the main construction. Although the corporation had been unable to get a bidder in 2007, Bob Brennan, Hydro President was optimistic about the future. By breaking down the project into two smaller chunks, risks were reduced for bidders, and he also felt that construction was cooling off in other parts of the country.

Discussion: Why is it important in each new article to provide details on construction to date as well as information on location and size of project?

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2 December 2008: “Wuskwatim Generating Station General Civil Contract Awarded” [Manitoba Hydro News Release]

This news release announced that a $289 million contract had been awarded to a consortium of Newfoundland and Quebec construction firms, whose job would be to build the earth dams, dykes, and generating station itself, as well as excavate rock and maintain roads and cofferdams.

The release summarised what had been completed, including a 48 km access road, an upstream containment dyke, stage one upstream and downstream cofferdams, excavation of 600,000 cubic metres of overburden and 450,000 cubic metres of rock.

Jim Moore, Chief of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), was pleased because the project was intended to provide the members with “long-term benefits from resource development” within the band’s traditional territory. Manitoba Hydro and NCN became partners in 2006 and in 2008 at least 400 workers, 65% of them aboriginal, were involved in the project. Hydro noted that “since 2001, more than “1900 prospective Aboriginal workers” had been trained for the Wuskwatim and future projects, and in addition “$80 million” had been spent by Manitoba Hydro for “goods and services purchased from northern Manitoba Aboriginal businesses.”

Discussion: There has been an ongoing argument between those who oppose dam development and those who support it. At one time, Hydro built dams without much consultation with the local people affected. Now they are involved as partners. Why did Hydro’s news release also focus on the involvement of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the benefits that it received from the project? What political reason could explain why Hydro included this information?

The agreement between Manitoba Hydro and Nisichawayasihk also raises other questions. Since long-term benefits have been negotiated with the aboriginal communities in the Thompson region, why haven’t similar agreements been negotiated on the East Side, which is one of the most impoverished regions of Manitoba? Who is opposed: the East Side communities themselves, the Provincial Government, or activists for the environmental movement? In the end, who suffers when a region is cut off from economic development?

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5 February 2009: “First Nation votes today on $80-M Hydro Deal” [Winnipeg Free Press, A5]

Mary Agnes Welch reported on the vote by Tataskweyak Cree Nation (Split Lake) on 5 February 2009 to ratify a partnership with Manitoba Hydro to develop the Keeyask Generating Station northeast of the community on the Nelson River. The deal negotiated by Chief Duke Beardy and his Council would give Tataskweyak “as much as 15 percent ownership of the 695-megawatt power station,” which will cost as much as $5 Billion to complete. Tataskweyak has to pay a portion of the capital costs of construction, but Manitoba Hydro promised to provide loans to cover the community’s share. Chief Beardy considered it a good deal that would provide a revenue stream of 27 Million over the next twenty-five years. Added to the $53 Million “in compensation for flooding of its traditional hunting and trapping lands,” at least $80 Million would flow into the community.

According to Welch’s report, “That money will be used to build a cultural centre; train youth in traditional ways; and buy some snow machines, charter flights and satellite phones for band members to continue hunting and trapping.”

There was opposition. Some band members objected because they felt the provisions of the deal had not been properly explained to band members at public meetings in January. Although Welch did not specify who commissioned the study, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation “found that Hydro gave Tataskweyak and War Lake First Nation $39 million over the last five years to help those bands negotiate the deal.” Apparently, “The cash was used to hire a consulting firm and to pay lawyers, engineers and environmental experts,” but according to spokesperson Solange Garson, a band member living in Winnipeg and long-time opponent of the Council over the dam, band members did not know where the money went.

The deal involves four bands, Tataskweyak, War Lake, York Factory, and Fox Lake, the latter three voting later this winter. All of them have to approve the joint-ownership agreement, or the dam won’t be built, which would be a big problem for Hydro, “since the company is counting on the power Keeyask is expected to generate.” Tataskweyak has a population of 3,200 people, and a third of them had to vote in the referendum for it to be valid.

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7 February 2009: “Band members vote in favour of Hydro’s Keeyask dam” [Winnipeg Free Press, A5]

In an update on the vote, Mary Agnes Welch reported that “more than 60 percent” of Tataskweyak’s band members voted in favour of the deal with Manitoba Hydro. War Lake also ratified a similar deal on the same day. This is one more hurdle crossed in the bid to build the Keeyask dam that would generate 695 megawatts of power, “making it one of the biggest ones in the north.”

Discussion: This article raises interesting issues that students might discuss. Both Calvin Helin in Dances with Dependency and Frances Widdowson in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry discussed the issue of fees charged by a variety of consultants, lawyers, and others acting as intermediaries between the band and outside agencies. $39 Million seems a trifle high. Should band members be asking questions? If there is validity in the claim that the fees were excessive, what could be done about it?

Another issue concerns how the revenue will be spent by the community once it is received. Is it is to be used, as Welch suggested, to revive hunting and trapping, or is this just an idea being bandied about by people who think all Northern aboriginal people follow traditional lifestyles? How many people in a community of 3,200 people could be sustained by a revival of hunting and trapping? What other alternatives might the community consider?

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9 November 2010: “Gillam-to-Nunavut road a step closer to reality” [Winnipeg Free Press, A6]

Bruce Owen is to be commended for drawing the attention of Manitobans to the possibility of “an all-weather road from Manitoba to Nunavut.” The proposed road “would start in Gillam, run through Churchill and up along the Hudson Bay coast to the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Whale Cove, and Rankin Inlet.” In a 2005 study, the estimated cost of construction was $1.2 billion, a figure that would be higher now, but Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak said that the “high cost of transportation and high cost of goods and services” in Nunavut made it “necessary.” Manitoba premier Greg Selinger also indicated his interest in the economic development of the north. Noting that “winter roads just don’t last as long anymore,” because of climate change, he said that “if we’re going to develop the economy, we need the proper infrastructure and a road is a key part of that.”

The road had been under discussion for some years now.

In 2005, the Manitoba and Nunavut governments and the Kivalliq Inuit Association launched a $1-million study to look at three proposed routes.” It also looked at the social, economic, and environmental effects of a road into the Far North.

As usual, there were differences of opinions on the value of the road. For some the focus was economic. The isolated northern communities needed a reliable transportation route to bring in food, building materials and other goods as their economies expand. For others, the focus was on the environment. They feared that an all-weather road would increase “human access to fragile wilderness areas.”

In spite of those concerns, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak signed an agreement on Monday, November 8, that called on both their governments to begin consultations on a cost-benefit study. It also called for both governments to co-operate on health services, research on the uses of renewable energy (including technology), the development of joint tourism projects, and collaboration on culture, education and sporting activities.

Discussion: Premier Selinger noted that a major challenge would be getting Ottawa to come onboard with funding. Why might Ottawa be interested in promoting the all-weather road?

The maintenance costs of this proposed all-weather road have been estimated to be $8 to $11 million a year. The estimated yearly cost of running the new human rights museum Winnipeg is about $20 million. Like all estimates, both are probably out by many millions. However, if they are relatively close to reality, where would we be getting the biggest bang for our buck?

Consider this. The building of the railways into Western Canada sparked economic development that is still occurring after a century. What could an all-weather road do for the development of communities in Northern Manitoba and Nunavut?

Environmentalists, most of them from places outside of Northern Manitoba and Nunavut, have worked hard to prevent northern development. Their influence is particularly noticeable in Eastern Manitoba, where they have lobbied against all-weather roads that would bring economic relief to the aboriginal communities in north-eastern Manitoba. They have also used their influence to persuade the Government of Manitoba to build BiPole III on the west side of Lake Manitoba, a proposal that may ironically do more environmental damage. What arguments do you see this lobby group using to prevent the building of an all-weather road to Nunavut?

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9 November 2010: “Northern transport summit held” [Winnipeg Free Press, A6]

The Arctic Gateway Summit was held in Winnipeg at the beginning of November 2010 to “hammer out some key elements needed to build a viable global transportation system in the North.” Business writer Martin Cash, who has kept abreast of developments connected with CentrePort Canada, was there to cover the event.

The two-and-a-half-day conference at the University of Winnipeg was sponsored by OmniTRAX, the Denver firm that owns the Hudson Bay Railroad and the Port of Churchill. It was co-hosted by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and University President Lloyd Axworthy, “one of the Port of Churchill’s oldest and staunchest supporters.”

Michael Ogborn, executive vice-president of OmniTRAX Canada viewed the conference as a “critical step toward establishing a viable and sustainable transportation system in the North.” Such a system could involve the expansion of international links via the Arctic Ocean. Axworthy drew attention to the “geographic proximity … of Canada’s north to northern Russia,” which is a major argument for an “Arctic bridge” between the two. This is one key factor in the “future development potential” of CentrePort Canada, which could benefit from shorter shipping times along northern routes to Asia. Michael Ogborn underscored this point by noting that “the route from Murmansk, Russia, to Churchill is 1,447 nautical miles shorter than to Pacific ports and can cut five days off shipping times.” Considering that current transportation costs are $40,000 a day, this becomes a considerable savings.

There was a “sizable delegation from Russia, including Denis Pashkov, minister of industry and energy of the large central Russian region of Krasnoyarsk Krai.” He emphasized the need for transportation corridors and that Russia wanted to co-operate with others in this area, “not necessarily in mineral and resource development, but in mutually developing both these regions.”

Discussion: There is considerable international fear of Russian interest in the Arctic. Why are the circumpolar nations worried about that interest?

How might the United States react to an expansion of international trade routes between Russia and North America?

One of the assumptions behind the current interest in the Arctic is the widespread belief that the Arctic Ocean is going to be ice-free. How would the proposed Arctic transportation routes be affected, if that doesn’t happen?

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Click on the footnote number to return to the text.

[1] The transmission line, known as BiPole III, has caused a great deal of controversy over whether it will go south on the east or west side of Lake Winnipeg. For more information on this issue, go to “Aboriginal News” “BiPole III and the East Side Option” Northern Manitoba News “Wanipigow” and “Berens River.” 

[2] This information on current construction activity at Wuskwatim was missing from Welch’s following article on January 20, but it would have been useful there to help determine why Wuskwatim had been in the news, but Keeyask had not. Welch wrote on January 20 that “the prep work on Keeyask- the engineering plans, environmental studies and deals with First Nations” was further along than for Conawapa, but made no comparison with Wuskwatim. Evidently, construction had not even begun at Keeyask.

[3] People become alarmed when they read that a dam is going to flood land, and journalists know that this grabs their attention. That’s why it is important to analyse terminology like “46-square-kilometres” and create a context to better determine its significance. Square miles are basic to the survey system established in Manitoba, so a conversion of square kilometres to square miles can give the reader a better understanding of the amount of land involved. 46-square-kilometres converts to just under 18 square miles. That is a square four miles to a side with two sections left over. In today’s agricultural landscape that’s about four Manitoba grain farms of just under 3000 acres each. Why does creating a context help to add meaning to the text?

[4] The reader needs to ask the question. Why was it odd that Keeyask is apparently so little known? Why might Welch have used “odd” to describe this situation? Did her subsequent evidence support the contention?

[5] What was the major issue surrounding BiPole III? Why would this issue divert the attention of Manitobans from the Keeyask project?

[6] What do “virtually no scrutiny” and “it’s massive” suggest to the reader? Was Welch's use of them here reflective of her bias, or was it simply an attention-getting device?

[7] Why might a long delay explain the lack of attention to Keeyask in the media?

[8] Did Welch mean $100 million each year in profits? Or was it $100 million over 25 years? Why is it important to know? Where could you find out the correct information?

[9] Potentially Nelson House will control a third of Wuskwatim, while the four bands will only control a quarter of Keeyask. Why then are the four bands likely to make more money? Welch does not repeat the reason here, but you can find it elsewhere in her article.

[10] Analyse this objection to the dam. Based on the actual size of the flooded area, is it accurate to suggest that the dam would affect traditional life styles to any great degree? More to the point, how important are traditional hunting, fishing, and trapping activities to the local economy? How many people would be affected by the loss of land due to flooding? How do those losses compare to the economic gains that the dam would bring to the community? Who is likely to be influenced by this argument outside the four communities?

[11] In the early years of hydro construction, aboriginal people were barely consulted. How is the present situation different and does it represent a positive or negative development for aboriginal communities in Northern Manitoba?



Last updated : February 17, 2011


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