Discovering Manitoba

Going to Whiteshell

Pristine lakes are habitat to all sorts of waterfowl.

Every school child in Canada learns about the Canadian Shield. Created over two billion years ago, it is the oldest land form in North America and covers most of Quebec and Ontario and much of eastern Manitoba.

This vast territory is made up of granite, thinly covered with soil, of glacial lakes and boreal forest, interspersed with muskeg sinks and marshes. The shield exudes the majesty of Canada, as painted by the Group of Seven, mixed with the mystery of mist-shrouded lakes and the romance of the loon’s lonely call.

All of this is at our doorstep in Manitoba at Whiteshell Provincial Park, just a short 100 km east of Winnipeg. This park presents a wonderful combination of wilderness and contemporary resort life. Just a step away from the cottage and resort playgrounds is a land of prehistory, the stillness of the shield absorbing all but the most raucous noise of cottagers and visitors. Driving through the park, you can suddenly come across a Blue crane, standing one-legged on a tree stump in the middle of a primeval swamp, while around a bend you may find a mother black bear and her two cubs playing by the roadside.

There are huge granite outcrops and still pools looking as if no man has ever set foot beside them. There are small grasslands and vast swamps, pristine lakes and miles of forest, both deciduous and evergreen. And everywhere is this sense of prehistory, of being in a place where the troubles of the world are far behind. If you leave the beaten path, you can see traces of the ancient peoples who held this land sacred long before Europeans set foot here; petroforms (outlines made of stone and boulders in the shape of humans, snakes, turtles and the like) created by the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) and other aboriginal people, sit silently on sunny outcrops of stone. Wild rice, a grass (Zizania aquatica) is harvested here in the backcountry and has been for millennia. In August, the rice lakes look more like wheat fields than lakes.

One of the best ways to tour the Whiteshell is by boat or canoe for a wilderness experience that will stay with you forever. Perhaps you will see a pair of loons dancing on the water to distract you from their nestlings. You might come across a majestic moose, dripping water as he takes a sunrise drink. Beavers are common and you might come across a little white beaver that has apparently taken his family to the back country.

Hiking trails can take you through some spectacular scenery and fishing is the unofficial pastime of the park — that and water-skiing — yet somehow these diverse activities are able to live side by side in some kind of harmony. More and more people are taking advantage of the Whiteshell in the winter. Some of the resorts are open year round and many cottages are now winterized. There are some people who say that the very best time to visit is right now in early spring when the earth is just awakening.

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