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Mellow Manitoba Meandering - a Trip Report

Mellow Manitoba Meandering - a Trip Report

Old Aug 18th, 2004, 11:40 AM
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Mellow Manitoba Meandering - a Trip Report

As incredible as it may seem - I mean, is there anyone who actually dreams of a holiday in Manitoba?? - we (meaning my hubby and I) spent two lovely weeks exploring the southern part of the province.

Manitoba - for those Fodorites who may not know - is the province smack in the middle of Canada. In fact, there is a sign along the highway some 30 km east of Winnipeg that proudly states "longitudinal centre of Canada"!!!!

The southern part of Manitoba is part of the great plains, pure flat wide-open spaces of prairie. Easy to see why the rivers frequently flood the area. Prime agricultural land.

The eastern third of the province and most of the northern two-thirds is part of the Canadian Shield (pre-Cambrian rock = a pre-historic mountain range (??), with lots of little lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and mixed boreal forest). Wonderful wilderness areas teeming with wildlife and great for fishing!!

Right in the heart of Manitoba are two huge lakes, the largest being Lake Winnipeg, which, according to something my hubby read, is half the size of Switzerland; don't know about that, but I do know that it is 24,400 square kilometers in size - big!! - and it's very very long and "narrow" - but you still can't see one side from the other across the so-called narrow part.

On this "Manitoba canvas" we painted our vacation memories. I'll describe the highlights individually - so stay tuned as I add to this thread.



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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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Manitoba highlights, pros and cons, part I -

There was only one negative to our whole trip, so I'll get it out of the way first.
The highways - sorry Manitobans!! but I have to say this - the highways in Manitoba must be the worst in all of Canada.

The main 4-lane divided highway(s) are rough and have gravel shoulders.

The Yellowhead (#16), strongly touted as an alternate route to the Trans Canada (#1) is so rough and narrow in the very western part of Manitoba, being only a two lane undivided road with very narrow gravel shoulders, it's difficult to believe that it is part of a major route (very different from the 4-lane divided sections of the same highway in Saskatchewan and Alberta).

And the secondary "highways" are an experience in themselves, extremely narrow (no shoulders at all on some of the two lane undivided paved roads), few signs for distances and intersections, very poorly placed, with fields of grain right to the edge of the road. In fact, on some of these highways in the southern Interlake region you get the feeling that you are driving on someone's very long driveway!!

The only good thing about Manitoba's highways is that they are not crowded, in fact, on the secondary highways you can drive for miles without coming across another vehicle travelling in either direction!!!

To be continued. . . .
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 12:45 PM
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Manitoba highlights, part 2 -

We drove from home to Manitoba - a distance of 960 km (~600 miles) to the western border of the province. It was a long long LONG drive across the prairie. Funny thing - when we drive through the mountains to the west of our home, the same distance seems a lot shorter!!!

Another 176 km (110 miles) east of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, we made our first tourist-type stop - Neepawa.

Neepawa? - you ask. Yes, Neepawa!!!

I was interested in stopping there because it happens to be the birthpace of one of my favourite Canadian authors - Margaret Laurence (she wrote many novels among them the award winning "A Jest of God" which was made into a movie titled "Rachel, Rachel" starring Joanne Woodward). In Neepawa there is a museum (Margaret Laurence's childhood home) that has been designated a Provincial Heritage site - worth a stop I thought.
Well, the museum/home is interesting to a fan of the author, but in my opinion needs a bit of TLC. There is a gift shop in the kitchen of the home, where not only the author's books, but other souvenir type stuff, can be purchased.

Neepawa is a very pretty small town with streets that are lined with stately elms. There were many lovely gardens bursting with colorful flowers, and we later discovered that Neepawa calls itself the "World Lily Capital".

While strolling through some of these lily gardens, we discovered that we were being "stalked" by an elderly gentleman in a red pick-up truck. It turns out that the motto on Manitoba licence plates - "Friendly Manitoba" - is actually very true!! This retired gentleman, a veteran of WWII, took it upon himself to show us the sights in Neepawa, including the very picturesque cemetary (where stands the "stone angel", inspiration for M. Laurence's novel of the same name).

We had one of our more memorable meals in Neepawa - lunch at the Prairie Seasons Bakery (on Mountain Ave) - an organic bakery. The chicken noodle soup was farm-fresh and absolutely delicious, haven't had such good fresh soup in a long time!!; the turkey sandwiches were piled high with mouth-watering and very fresh veggies; the doughnut with a dollop of raspberry jam on the top was melt-in-your-mouth yummy; and the organic coffee was nut-like in flavor and very very good. Makes me hungry just to remember it!!

To be continued. . . .
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 02:25 PM
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Manitoba highlights, part 3 -

From that "hot" and trendy tourist destination Neepawa, we meandered across the prairie following the secondary highways (described above) until we reached Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park and the Gull Harbour Resort.

Hecla Provincial Park is on an island in Lake Winnipeg; it is connected to the "mainland" by a causeway. The unique thing about this causeway is that it is not surrounded by waters of the lake, but by enourmous marshlands.

Marshlands - yuck! you say??
Not really. It is quite a scenic spot, the land is extremely flat, and there are numerous little ponds of water surrounded by marsh grasses etc. So you have lots of blue blue sky relected in the water, and various greens of the marshland plantlife - a subtle beauty.

Besides - this is a birdwatchers paradise!!!

I know this question will come up - so no! - we did not notice any black flies, and mosquitoes were a minimal annoyance.

Hecla Island is covered with forest (birches, poplars, pines, firs, larches).

Gull Harbour Resort is at the tip of the island facing the middle of Lake Winnipeg. The resort contains a hotel with a lounge, dining room, games room, conference rooms, gift shop - all your standard resort amenities. On the very well maintained grounds of the resort is a golf course which apparently is rated as one of the top 25 golf courses in Canada.

We found our accommodations to be spacious, clean and comfortable. Our unit had a little patio where we could sit sipping drinks while admiring the view to the lake.
The lounge also had a lovely patio with a pond, fountain, flowers, and a view of Lake Winnipeg.
We do not play golf, but my hubby insisted in driving around the golf course parking lot to see how many out-of-province licence plates he could see!!

While at Gull Harbour we walked a few of the trails in the woods to scenic viewpoints and lighthouses at ends of spits of land.
On one of our walks, my hubby made me suddenly stop walking.
Shhhh! he said.
"What??" I asked, annoyed at the delay.
"Did you hear that grunting? Was that us, or is there a bear nearby?" he replied. . . .

Yes - there are black bears at Hecla. There are quite prominent warnings about the bears at the resort. I'm not sure whether they play golf, but I'm quite sure that they often use the hiking trails!!!

To be continued. . .
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 02:51 PM
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Glad to hear your trip to Manitoba was so enjoyable. I lived in Winnipeg for nineteen years. Sadly I haven't had the chance to return to Manitoba for many years, and your trip report has made me feel nostalgic. You've managed to visit a good many places that would be new to me now and I was delighted to read your descriptions.
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 05:05 PM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip to Manitoba. I live in Winnipeg and agree that some of our highways are in need or repair etc.
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 06:18 PM
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How nice to read about a less talked about spot in Canada!
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 09:40 PM
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Manitoba highlights, part 4 -

While on Hecla Island, we walked a marshland trail, and strolled several sandy beaches, and one rocky shore. The rocky shore was actually more interesting than the beach (!) - picnic tables had been set out on enormous vertical slabs of rock overlooking Lake Winnipeg - an awesome spot between the forest and the water - and an unusual place for a picnic!!

The marshland trail was a long long walk along a grassy narrows to a "blind" (tower) where you could rest and watch the wildlife.
We heard more wildlife than we saw! - including many frogs croaking, birds singing, and one huge "splash" as we walked past a pond (a beaver?? - we did see a beaver lodge).
A shorter boardwalk over the marshes in the same area was great for getting right into the wetland. I would definitely recommend this place to any and all birdwatchers.

On the grassy narrows walk, while crossing a small bridge, we saw striped snakes of various sizes sunning themselves on the wooden planks - this was the first time that I had ever seen snakes in the wild in Canada!!(usually they're in government and viewed frequently on TV ).

Hecla Village is also on the island and is a historic place where settlers who had moved from Iceland in the mid-19th century had lived for many years. The Village is spread out along the lakeshore, but was an easy relaxing distance for us to stroll while stopping occasionally to read the infomation signposts. Having great weather really helped.
The buildings and grounds are very well maintained. A marina, some Icelandic style fishing boats, a small gift shop/take-out cafe, and a B&B added to the charm of the place.

We didn't know before we got there, but the Icelandic theme runs through many communities along Lake Winnipeg, and is especially evident in Gimli, a small town 100 km (~63 miles) south of Gull Harbour Resort, where we even saw a few guys wearing Viking helmets walking around!!

We also noticed that there were some very posh looking "cottages" along secluded roads and right by the lakeshore on Hecla Island - this must be a retreat - getting away from it all - for people in Winnipeg who love the isolation and quiet, and don't mind the 180 km (~112 miles) drive.
I'm jealous - we have nothing that close to Edmonton!!

To be continued. . . .

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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 10:45 PM
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A word about dining on Hecla Island/Hecla Provincial Park - the options are very limited.
Basically (as far as we could tell) the only real restaurant was the dining room at Gull Harbour Resort.
We ate breakfasts and dinners there, and after two days this got rather monotonous. The menu was unimaginative, the food was average, and the selection of wines and beers was limited and not very exciting.

In my opinion, Gull Harbour Resort could benefit greatly from the services of a talented and creative chef. It's a pretty and relaxing spot, and with the golf course, hiking trails, and possibilities for boating (at Gull Harbour Marina), it could become a very desirable and attractive destination resort.

That's all for today, to be continued tomorrow (watch for the next thrilling installment - "Travelling the western shore of Lake Winnipeg to the city of Winnipeg ;-) "). . . .
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Old Aug 19th, 2004, 08:51 AM
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Manitoba highlights, part 5 -
[On the road from Hecla Provincial Park to the city of Winnipeg]

First stop - Gimli

Gimli is a picturesque little town on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg. Besides Vikings (and Viking-type souvenirs, lots of flags of Iceland), there's a pretty marina, a pier covered with art, gift shops, cafes and restaurants, and a lakeshore hotel.

It was a lovely sunny day when we were there, and as we walked along the pier, we saw many people of all ages fishing from the pier, and several artists at work on their section of the pier wall, transforming the concrete with brilliantly colourful paintings - mostly interpretations of Manitoba history or scenery - quite impressive (even though a lot of the art was what I would call "folk art", things like farming scenes, Ukrainian Easter eggs, bison roaming the plains, etc.).

The art gallery adjacent to the marina/pier displayed more works by the same artists. Naturally some of it was even for sale!!

We noticed that some of the little houses (cottages, maybe?) in Gimli were on "stilts", or, to be more accurate, they sat on wooden pegs lifting them about a foot off the ground. The area must be prone to flooding(?) But it is a lovely spot to have a home away from home, especially if one has a boat (sailing or otherwise) in the marina.

Gimli is also the home of the "Gimli glider" - way back in 1983 a new Air Canada Boeing 767 ran out of fuel high above Manitoba mid-way to its destination (a fuel calculation error), and the veteran pilot and his co-pilot successfully landed the plane by GLIDING to an abandoned RCAF (air force) landing strip in Gimli !!

Second stop - Winnipeg Beach

This was a delightful surprise.
Winnipeg Beach is a little community with a lovely crescent shaped and sandy beach next to a well maintained park with trees for shade, a boardwalk (with donors names on each of the planks), picnic tables and benches for viewing the beach and the endless lake. Across the street from this park is a row of little shops, cafes, restaurants, and ice cream parlours. What a perfect way to spend a warm sunny August day !!

People of all ages and shapes were enjoying the beach, swimming in Lake Winnipeg and building sand castles, some were napping under umbrellas, the bell-like tinkle of the ice cream vendor could be heard in the distance. We had one of our "magic moments" at Winnipeg beach, as we sat eating our box lunch (a yummy hot dog and a tasty Reuben sandwich purchased from one of the cafes lining the street, the box was provided by the cafe) with a view to the sparking water of the lake, and the sounds of children's laughter.

Next stop - ta da - WINNIPEG!!
To be continued. . . . . . .
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Old Aug 23rd, 2004, 12:01 PM
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Manitoba highlights - part 6

Winnipeg!!

Third time lucky!! - this was our third visit to Winnipeg, the first two times (5 and 8 years ago) I found it difficult to like anything about this city.
However, on this trip, we "discovered" the charm of Winnipeg. It's an attractive small city defined by its location on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Pretty parks around the impressive Legislature (with the Golden Boy on top), walkways next to the Assiniboine, the downtown seemed to have more life to it than it did on our previous trips, and it has so much more history to it than younger but larger Canadian cities such as Calgary and Edmonton.

Accommodation - we stayed at Place Louise Riel, we had a very comfortable Premium studio suite on the 23rd floor. Only downside was that there was a sports team of young women staying at the same time, and the elevators were being heavily used. Otherwise a quiet and pleasant place to stay with all the comforts of home, and within easy walking distance of most downtown Winnipeg attractions.

Dining
1. FUDE - this funky bistro style restaurant on Osborne Street was a delight. In addition to the indoor dining room, there was also an outdoors section on a deck one story above the street. The food was good if somewhat unusual in presentation, there was an eclectic selection of nice wines, and the service was excellent. The only puzzle was that it was not crowded, even though it was a lovely summer weekend evening.
2. BOMBOLINI - a charming Italian (pasta, pizza etc.) "wine bar and deli" (downstairs from Amici, downtown off Braodway Avenue) - very tasty appetizers, salads and pasta dishes, service a bit slow even though it was not full.
3. PRAIRIE INK - well OK I have to admit that I am a bibliophile, and any cafe inside a bookshop will automatically get my vote!! This little cafe in the McNally Robinson Booksellers in Portage Place (downtown Winnipeg) was a perfect place to lunch (it was also the most crowded of any eateries that we saw). The light appetizers, desserts, and cafe lattes were very good, and being surrounded by books made the atmosphere relaxing!!

Attractions
1. The Forks - a collection of kiosks and small shops selling everything from food to clothes to jewellery to toys - I have always found the arrangement of shops at The Forks to be jammed in and congested, but it is worth a visit just for the location (and the tourist information booth).
2. FOLKLORAMA - a delighful ethnic festival, each of 46 different ethnic groups hosting in a separate community hall or cultural centre - you can purchase ethnic food and then watch the show while munching. It was lots of fun, but you can only visit two or three "pavillions" per evening. I believe this festival is held each year on the first two weeks of August.

Other attractions -
For any mystery book lover, IMO the best mystery bookstore in western Canada is in Winnipeg - Whodunit? on Lilac Street - it has a huge selection of both new and used mystery novels, including novels written by Canadian authors, and the owner will offer you not only help but tea or coffee while you browse!!

This visit to Winnipeg left me with a taste of wanting more, and that, I suppose, is the best recommendation that anyone could make !!

(Last installment of this trip report - Grand Beach, Riding Mountain National Park, and Whiteshell Provincial Park, to follow. . . . )
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Old Aug 23rd, 2004, 02:11 PM
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Manitoba highlights, part 7 -

1. Grand Beach (Provincial Park)
This sandy area on the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg is less than an hour's drive from Winnipeg. The beaches are incredible - beautiful soft and fine white sand - and lots of it!! There are even areas covered with sand dunes (next to the beaches). Although it was overcast when we were there (and windy and cool), there were still many people enjoying the park. I didn't like the kiosks selling beach items etc., or the food kiosks and cafeteria - all seemed tired and worn out and in a huge need of renovation. Not appealing at all!!

2. Whiteshell Provincial Park
Unfortunately we ran out of time to properly visit this park on the western edge of the Canadian Shield, we only managed to drive through it and notice that there were many small lakes, lots of boreal forest, and many rocky areas. Most of the lakes seemed to have cottages/cabins by the shore. I imagine that the fishing must be quite good in Whiteshell - but don't know for certain. A more thorough exploration will have to wait for another visit!!

3. Riding Mountain National Park
In common with the other mountain parks in Canada, there is a picturesque village in a lovely spot at Riding Mountain National Park. The only thing missing were the mountain vistas - although there is a wonderful view of the surrounding prairie from the eastern part of the escarpment.

We stayed at McTavish's Wasagaming Lodge - and were a bit taken aback when we pulled up to it. The front of the lodge is taken up by an ice cream parlour and a book/magazine shop, both a little worse for wear. However, as it transpired, the accommodations were hidden from view and were actually fine!! We stayed in a one bedroom unit with a small kitchenette - it was clean and comfortable, but "basic" in terms of amenities. However, I must say that the couch in the living room area of the unit was the most comfortable of any that I have ever reclined on in any hotel/motel/cabin/lodge!!!!! Outside of the units (the building was "U" shaped)was a courtyard with a two-level wooden deck for general use. This areas had patio tables and chairs, recliners, BBQs, all for the use of guests, and even a hot tub. We did not avail ourselves of the use of these - it rained and rained the whole time we were in Riding Mountain NP - which is why I know how comfy the couch was - great spot for reading!!

Riding Mountain NP has lots of hiking trails, a largish lake (Clear Lake) with a small beach, paddle boats, and even a cruise!!), and a town with many many shops selling all sorts of things including clothes, jewellery, knick knacks, arts and crafts, and souvenirs. There are also a few restaurants, but since we cooked most of our meals in our kitchenette, I can't comment on any. (Note though that you have to drive out of the park, to Onanole, to purchase wine for your meal, and they sell it in the hardware store #-o !!!).

Riding Mountain NP is great for nature lovers and families. We saw only white tailed deer this trip, but noted that there were sightings of black bears, caribou, and moose by others.

Since this is my last installment for this trip report, I'd like to thank Carolred, canuck11 and Carolynn for their excellent advice!!!

Why visit Manitoba? - because it has some lovely spots, is good value for your dollar, the pace of the vacation will be slower and more relaxing, it isn't crowded, and is perfect for a family vacation.

That's all folks!!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2004, 03:08 PM
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Welcome home, Borealis. Thanks for the fabulous trip report. Manitoba sounds wonderful. Glad you had an enjoyable time.
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Old Aug 26th, 2004, 08:12 AM
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I'm happy you enjoyed your trip to Manitoba. Next time you should definitely visit Whiteshell Provincial Park. It is one of my favorite places. Beautiful lakes, scenery and many activities.
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Old Dec 1st, 2004, 07:30 PM
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Borealis, you should have looked me up!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2004, 07:44 PM
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Hello Carolred - maybe next time !!
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Old Dec 9th, 2004, 11:45 AM
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Borealis, I am impressed with the range of sights you took in. You discovered many of the unique places that I thought only locals knew. We're not just mosquitos and bitter cold after all!
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