Patuanak celebrates new health clinic, bridge

Following the official ribbon cutting, people took the opportunity to enjoy the view from the new Willow Heart Bridge spanning the start of the Churchill River. The name was chosen to honour one of Patuanak’s own ancestors.

By Rhonda Cooper
Last Wednesday was a banner day for the community of Patuanak and the English River First Nation. The village celebrated the grand opening of its new Willow Heart Bridge and the official turning of the sod for a new health clinic.

Three years ago the chief and council recognized the need for expansion in their community.

“There is too much muskeg on the south side,” said Chief Ralph Paul. “We couldn’t build anymore.”

The answer seem to lie just across the way, but it wasn’t accessible because of the Churchill River. The solution, build a bridge and begin the development of a second townsite on the north side.

Construction of the bridge commenced last February and was officially opened Sept. 8. Choosing a name for the new structure was an important part of the process.

“We decided we should honour one of our own,” said Chief Paul. “Willow Heart lived in a cabin at the point just west of the bridge. You can see it from the bridge. She was a seer and foretold many things that have since come true. It is amazing since she was doing this in the late 1800s.”

The official ceremony began with Elder Ovide Wolverine smudging the site while accompanied by singers Rod Apesis and Victor McIntyre.

Band administrator Lawrence McIntyre called forward a number of people who had contributed to the bridge’s construction.

“This project would not have been possible without all of these people and many others,” he said. “We are grateful to all who contributed in any way to the bridge. We would not be here celebrating if it were not for them.”

Youth of the community came forward to hold the ribbon as Patanauk elder Sarazine Ratt made the official cut to declare the bridge open. Community members and visitors alike took the opportunity to view the head of the Churchill River from the broad expanse of the bridge.

“We will now look at the idea of running the sewer lines under the water to the north side so we can relocate our lagoon,” said McIntyre.

Development of the north side will be a couple of years down the road, as designs for a new subdivision must be created and all the required steps and procedures followed.

In the meantime, the band is moving into its next major project – construction of a new medical clinic.

The chosen site, southeast of the new bridge and west of the present facility, will soon be stripped of its trees and grasses and ground leveled in preparation for construction.

“The clinic we have right now is not that old, but because the river doesn’t freeze there are moisture and mould issues,” said Paul.

Dowland of Inuvik won the $6.5 million tender. On hand for the official turning of the sod was project manager Thomas Gates, based out of the Edmonton office.

“Within the next two to three weeks we will have set up camp and start stripping the land,” Gates said. “Our goal is to have the project completed in 12 months.”

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