Rainy days always seem to bring about a down or depressed mood. In a small remote community in the north this kind of weather can have a less-than-desirable impact. The gray, sunless weather depresses many in the community and also creates a muddy, wet mess for the entire town. Most northern communities do not have the luxury of paved roads or concrete sidewalks. The roads are gravel and sand. When the rain comes, a walk through town becomes difficult.
In my home community of Attawapiskat, everyone has grown accustomed to trails and passages of packed dark earth and soil that snake in and out of backyards. When this earth gets wet, people have the option of wading through ankle deep mud or walking on sticky gravel and sand on the main roads. When severe weather comes, it turns the gravel roads into obstacle courses that are dotted with potholes. Some of these potholes turn into small ponds and it makes driving and walking in the community hazardous. I remember being soaked head to foot many times as I had the unhappy experience of meeting a vehicle while walking next to one of the monster potholes that was filled with water.
Before 1990, the roadways were built with a layer of 12 inches of gravel. This meant that after a deluge of heavy rain, large potholes turned into gaping holes that exposed the underlying dark soil. Sometimes, if this problem was left unattended, whole sections of gravel roadway washed away and in an instant our roads were gone.
In the early 1990s, it was with great joy and excitement that news of the construction of new water and sewer system for the entire town was announced. This was a huge undertaking that required a great deal of work and provided employment for many people. Supplies arrived over the winter road during the colder months of the year and in the early spring and throughout the summer, barges of material were brought in over the water. Equipment, heavy machinery and workers soon went to work digging up the entire town. They did the construction in sections and worked from the east end to the west end excavating deep trenches along every street and installing new water mains and sewer pipes.
In the fall, work on the new water system continued even through rainy weather. At one point the mud and wet sand everyone dreaded covered the entire community. It looked like a war zone. When work started in the middle of town, it was difficult for people to move around freely as all the main roadways became blocked. Most of the hard packed gravel roads were dug up, along with the underlying dark layer of soil and this exposed the slimy wet grey clay that lay deep underneath our community. Wet clay was the worst kind of material to get stuck under a boot or shoe. Instead of caking muddy water, wet earth or damp sand on your foot wear, the clay stuck on in chunks and layers. After a short walk, a pair of boots weighed a few pounds more than usual as they were caked in clay.
When the work was finally completed, it seemed like a new community had sprouted up to replace the old one. The gravel roads were rebuilt with a layer of four feet of gravel which ensured that we would not have any problems with muddy potholes in the immediate future. The drainage ditches were updated and that did away with most of the wet muddy areas and swamps that once dotted the landscape in town. We were all thrilled to be able to freely move around town without having to deal with the daily workings of machinery amongst mounds of soil and clay. We had real streets, indoor bathrooms and drinking water.
Now when the rain comes to Attawapiskat things are not so bad. The community has a newly discovered pride and homes are being updated and new buildings are being developed. Still, it will be a while until Attawapiskat becomes the diamond of the north. Paved roads would be a step in the right direction.