The Société de développement de la Baie-James (SDBJ) recently announced that it has been in talks with the Cree community of Eastmain to revitalize the rest stop at Km 381 on the James Bay highway and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for possible development.

According to Eastmain Chief Rusty Cheezo, the SDBJ approached the community last year to see if there was any interest in developing a partnership to renovate the existing rest-stop facilities with some expansion.

The SDBJ is currently proposing a $4.5 million project that would involve the construction of a new building to provide food, new accommodations, fuel sales and tourism services for visitors to the area. Km 381 is currently the only service area along the 600 km of the James Bay highway.

SDBJ President and Chief Executive Officer Raymond Thibault released a statement in early February stating that both sides would be giving themselves six months define what the renovations could involve.

“We are very pleased that the Cree Nation of Eastmain is interested in considering such a business partnership with us. Now the challenge is to reconcile our respective visions to make this a real anchor project for developing tourism in the James Bay territory,” said Thibault.

According to Cheezo, the community has been shopping the idea of a partnership around the other Cree communities to see if there is any interest in the project.

Though the SDBJ has proposed a renovation of Km 381, Cheezo said the community is also looking at the idea of creating a new facility at Km 372 instead.

The community believes that Km 372 may offer better opportunities for tourism because its location by a lake could possibly accommodate floatplanes. Because it is a more aesthetic setting, this too could boost tourism amongst the existing Cree-run camps in the area as potential guests may be more inclined to stay longer. The question is whether the Crees will be able to convince the SDBJ.

“We have tourists, like the caribou hunters and fishermen, who come by. We could develop other tourism ideas for people just coming to Eastmain like going out to the bay or sightseeing. There are different things throughout the year. We have to find new ways to create employment and tourism is one of the ways,” said Cheezo.

Cheezo said the current facilities at Km 381 consist of a gas station and some trailer-type lodging that he described as “not too inviting”. The biggest problem however is the fact that the current facility runs solely on generators as it is not hooked up to the hydro grid. This adds a second problem as the running and maintenance of the generators has proven quite costly over the years.

The community is looking to see if the SDBJ would be inclined to delay the project by one year as it would increase the likelihood of connecting whatever proposed area to the grid.

“We were trying to convince them to go to the lake, start at a new location and not worry about rebuilding at 381. With a new location we could even give it a Cree name, not just having it as 372. We would ask the tallymen if they have a name for the lake,” said Cheezo.

Cheezo said he and his people are currently working on a presentation that they will make before the SDBJ in regards to the possibility of building the project on the lake at Km 372. While Cheezo will be meeting with the SDBJ in the coming weeks, reaching a compromise between both parties on the project might still be months away.