Original Published on Aug 10, 2022 at 19:27

By Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Fort Simpson’s mayor says some damage at the community’s territorial park still awaits repair, more than a year after historic flooding in the village.

Shower facilities in the territorially run campground were seriously damaged by the May 2021 flood. While residents rushed to repair their homes within nine months to be eligible for GNWT disaster assistance, the territorial park’s shower building has remained closed.

Drew Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment – which operates the N.W.T.’s parks – said staff had acted as quickly as they could to repair the park’s building and campground following the flood. 

The shower building was evaluated in June 2021 by a team that included insurance adjusters, Williams said by email.

“Their report resulted in a decision to gut the interior of the facility and to rebuild within the original shell. A tender for this work was secured and a contractor identified in late fall 2021.”

But, Williams wrote, when the contractor arrived at the site, they realized the damage extended to the building’s foundations. This spring, GNWT engineers determined a complete rebuild was required. 

“Due to the timing of budgets and contracting seasons, we will have to do this over two years, with planning and tendering this year and construction of the facility itself in 2023,” said Williams. 

In the meantime, a temporary, portable shower block recently arrived.

The department’s account does not exactly line up with the interpretation of Sean Whelly, mayor of the village.

“We didn’t see anyone open up those buildings and start drying them out for about two months,” said Whelly at the end of July. 

“Last year, I had to bring it up in the middle of summer and say, ‘hey, can we at least open up the basic campgrounds for people?’ They had closed the entire campground. 

“It was well into July 2021 by the time they opened up. In Hay River, their campground was fully operational again two weeks after the flood. 

“I can understand that repairs take time, but we’re now well into the second season.” 

Whelly said being without basic campground services is frustrating at the height of the Dehcho’s first tourism season since 2019, an economic sector the village has been trying to develop. 

“A facility that’s key to the tourism infrastructure here is non-operational. The online system still says there’s a shower building here, charging the full fee of $28 to book, and then people arrive and find that all they get is a site,” said Whelly. 

“For $28, the bare minimum of what you expect is a shower. We’re missing good opportunities to make the best impression we can on people.”

During the recent Dehcho Annual Assembly, Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation Chief Kele Antoine arranged for visitors to shower at the community hall. 

“For now, that’s the system,” said Whelly. “And that’s not a good solution.” 

This week, Whelly said he is grateful that a temporary portable shower facility has now been installed in the campground – but questions why it took a year and a half to arrive, and when a permanent solution is coming. 

He noted the water shed still doesn’t have a functioning pressured water pump. 

“Why is the government so slow at repairing their own stuff? These facilities belong to the taxpayers. We all pulled our socks up and, with limited resources, did what we could, recovering from the flood with minimal help from government,” said Whelly. 

“But with unlimited resources, they’ve accomplished the bare minimum. Tourism kind-of goes to sleep a bit in the winter, so there was plenty of time to put a contract out and get that building ready for spring.”

The issue has some people re-examining the current territorial park ownership structure, which they say slows change and leaves important decisions affecting communities to be made by people living elsewhere.

“Local leadership would be far more attentive to the facilities and maintenance,” said Whelly. 

Herb Norwegian, the Dehcho Grand Chief, agrees that the campground should be locally run. 

He and Whelly have discussed how the village and Dehcho First Nations might collaborate to run the area’s parks. 

In an address at the Dehcho Annual Assembly, Norwegian said Dene stewardship of parks – like the protected area he helped established in Edéhzhíe – creates the best outcome. 

“The last thing we want to do is rely on government handouts. We want to sustain ourselves through the land, and it’s in our own best interests to take good care of it,” Norwegian said. 

This item reprinted with permisson from Cabin Radio, Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories