Discovering Manitoba

Sons of Beaches

The beach at Beaver Creek.

We take the beach for granted if we come from Manitoba and it has always been so. Long before nobody but the rich and privileged could afford the luxury of a “camp”, (as cottages were called back then at Kenora or Lake of the Woods), less fortunate Winnipeggers could always rely on the beach. The train went to Grand Beach, and at one time you could take a trolley bus to Winnipeg Beach.

Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National park was a favourite spot for folks from as far away as Winnipeg. The town of Wasagaming, developed on the edge of the park in the thirties, was one of the first resorts in the province.

When I was very small, we had a farm on the edge of Lake Dauphin and so the beach was just somewhere you went to as a reward after a hard day’s work. You could ride your horse there or walk, if you had enough energy.

When I reached my teens, cottage developments were opening up all over the Whiteshell and my boyfriend had a cottage at Betula lake. When my then boyfriend told his mom and dad that he wanted to invite me to come up for the weekend, they looked at each other knowingly and began to make mental preparations for a future wedding.

Later, when Glenn and I married, we shunned the family cottage and found our own beaches, first on Lake Winnipeg at Beaver Creek where we took our very small children and suffered rainstorms, mosquito infestations and bear scares in a tiny tent. As the kids got older and we became better off, we traded the tent for a camper, which we used to pull through formidable sand dunes with our four-wheel drive to a secluded spot near Twin Lakes at the southern tip of Lake Manitoba.

Desperate Winnipeg teenagers used to seek out the illegal swimming holes at the quarries, water-filled depressions created from the excavation of Tyndall stone and gravel, where the water was crystalline aqua and the bottom was somewhere near Hades. Tales of drowned teens were no deterrent.

And even with all this water, people still flocked, as they do today, to man-made lakes with enticing names such as ‘Miami Beach’ that dotted the landscape around the City. When Birds Hill Park was first opened in 1967, the main attraction was the man-made lake.

In Thompson, everyone flocks to Mystery Lake in the summer to “get away from it all”, and even in Churchill, on the
edge of the ocean at Hudson’s Bay, citizens go to the Lake for summer recreation, the lake being a glacial melt in a granite bowl just below the tree line and only a few kilometres from town.

Even the City of Winnipeg has a beach, far into the easternmost part of the province, at Shoal Lake (part of the Lake of the Woods water system), the source of our city’s water supply. Here a 1930s vintage “camp” probably still hosts parties of the city’s elites, transported there by the private rail line that hugs the aquaduct.

Most of our beaches have nice sandy margins and sandy bottoms, too: none of those leaches and weed-filled watering holes that pass for beaches in some places. And if the beach has a dock, and most do, chances are that someone will be fishing off it.

With over 110,000 freshwater lakes and the 10th largest inland lake in the world (Lake Winnipeg), it is only natural that we are beach people.

If you’re a visitor, just ask anyone where the nearest beach is. You can be fairly sure that no matter where you are, there will be somebody’s favourite beach nearby: the best in the world, they’ll be sure to tell you.

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