Winter ice roads could be fading away and airships might be taking over. A report by the Conference Board of Canada is suggesting that hot-air blimps like the ones that dominated the skies in the 1920s and 1930s could serve remote First Nation communities.

Experts and researchers are worried that warming trends in the far north will make the construction of ice winter roads more difficult as time goes on. I know for a fact that the life of the winter road up the James Bay coast from Moosonee is getting shorter every year. Twenty years ago when I was a kid in Attawapiskat, the familiar ice winter road was started in December and lasted until April. These days the winter road is constructed in January and begins to melt in late March. This poses a huge problem for remote First Nations, as many goods must be shipped by winter road.

The winter road is a lifeline that makes it possible to transport heavy and bulky items to the community by truck. It is more feasible to transport building supplies, construction equipment, vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, snow machines, fuel and furniture. The winter road really fills a gap because otherwise everything must be transported by barge in the summer and by expensive air freight year round.

With the diminishing season for the winter road, remote First Nation communities face a shortage in goods and an increase in price for those products and goods that come in by barge or must be flown in. Life is difficult enough in these communities, so things will be even worse once the winter road ceases to become a reality.

I recall many dark and freezing nights as I drove our Ford tractor or half-ton truck on the winter road while hauling a trailer load of lumber, plywood and bulk food items from Moosonee. I was only 15 the first time I did the drive and after two hours on the long, two-day ride through the wilderness I fell asleep at the wheel. I ran off the road and luckily we managed get the tractor back on the ice road. I have a lot of wonderful memories of my winter road adventures. It makes me sad to think that those days may soon be over.

The good news is that creative minds are trying to come up with cost efficient and safe ways of making sure that remote First Nations receive goods from the south. Actually, I don’t think that all these experts are only thinking about being good to remote First Nations as their first priority is to make sure that mines and other resource development projects are being supported and supplied. The idea of airships is interesting in terms of the huge loads they are capable of carrying.

The vast mushkeg of the far north is just too much of a challenge in terms of road or rail construction. This kind of development is also not environmentally friendly and creates havoc in the wilderness for wildlife. The possibility of airship transportation is very interesting from an environmental point of view. It would also be easy to take off and land huge airships. The fact that they would be able to carry many tons of goods on a regular basis throughout the year would be great for remote First Nations.

I know that many of us think of images of the famous Hindenburg disaster in 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. However, new technologies and the use of non-combustible helium instead of flammable hydrogen could produce reliable and safe airships capable of transporting incredible loads and even people.

I think I will see the day when airships will become a reality and I am looking forward to it. Already these giant vehicles exist and are in service in other parts of the world. The United States army is actively developing this technology. We still need roads and railways but it will become difficult to build and maintain them in the far north as global warming becomes more evident every year. There is no doubt that industry will create all sorts of new ways to expand into the far north. Already, when I look up into the northern sky I see contrails from passenger jets criss-crossing the heavens. I imagine soon there will be blimps on the horizon.