When the weather is perfect, the East Beaches of Lake Winnipeg -- from Patricia to Grand to Victoria -- are heaven on Earth for the thousands of Manitobans who make day trips or own cottages.
But what do you do when the skies cloud over and the wind kicks up? Come with me on a magical mystery tour of four great adventures off Highway 59. If you can't find them, don't be afraid to ask the friendly local folks.
45 Heathwood Dr. in Traverse Bay
TRY shopping for exotic clothes and gifts from India in a towering tree house on stilts. Drive up Highway 59, two minutes north of the intersection with Highway 11, and turn onto Traverse Bay Road East. Look sharp for a yellow Taj Treehouse sign, and follow the winding road.
Owner Debbie Morrow is often buzzing in and out of the pointed gazebo on stilts. Inside, customers find themselves transported to an Indian bazaar, with a riot of bright-coloured clothing, jingling jewelry, handmade crafts, purses, pillows and sparkly slippers.
"Everything is made by women in India. I go to Mumbai with my business partner, Mamta Mehta, to buy," Morrow said.
Morrow says exotically patterned light-cotton tunics are the biggest seller for Manitobans, just long enough to cover their fannies. "In India, women wear them with leggings -- they never show their legs in public. In Canada, women wear them as beach cover-ups and mini-dresses."
The tree house opens at noon, but before you head there, call 204-756-6859 (or toll-free, 1-855-836-7248). Want a sneak preview? A new branch recently opened at 470 River Ave. in Winnipeg's Osborne Village.
52 Grand Beach Rd. in Grand Marais
WONDER where the psychedelic '60s went? This time-tunnel store is almost hidden behind mature trees, one block from Lanky's famous orange burger stand on the main drag in Grand Marais. Watch for the T-Beach sandwich board and look up to the hippie-haven store with pink, lime and grape windows.
Meet owner Mike Pawlitsky, who has been living the '60s dream for decades with his true love, Valerie Garski. Soft-spoken Mike strings funky beads and holds court in the front of the shop, and Valerie sews magical gadgets, sweatbands and clothes. The shop is full of T-shirts, peace-sign necklaces, beach chairs and blankets, with wild lamps built by the owner while you wait.
One of their biggest draws is the "magical" coolers. You soak what appears to be a psychedelic tie (full of crystal polymer), and it swells to the size of a snake and wraps around your neck and body to keep you cool. All winter long the crafty duo are based out of Winnipeg and do Christmas-craft shows across Canada. Any other careers? "No, this is what the two of us do all the time -- an old hippie couple!" Pawlitsky laughs.
73 Lakeview Bay in Lakeshore Heights
FROM Highway 59, head to the Lakeshore Heights area by taking the turnoff to beautiful Balsam Bay Road. Make your way to Lakeview Road, and then look for Lakeview Bay. Once you see the big "73" sign and rainbow bridge you will know you've arrived.
Owners Roger and Audrey Batchelor, who also run the Grand Beach kiosk Peepers on Grand, say people are welcome to arrive any time, walk right into the yard and explore the gardens for free. You can't miss the Alice in Wonderland characters created by artist Audrey in tangled garden foliage. The startling Queen of Hearts opens her large mouth as if to roar at other characters, including Alice, the Mad Hatter and his Tea Party, and the Cheshire Cat.
"I made her out of wire and papier m¢ché and then glass and ceramic tiles over three years," Audrey says.
The Batchelors are a friendly duo who moved out from Winnipeg 22 years ago and commuted for years.
"People are welcome in our yard any time," says Roger. "We've even had people come at happy hour, and we've invited them in."
Sand Dunes Bakery and Arcade
62 Firdale Ave. in Grand Marias
THE building is bright white with beach chairs outside, but inside it's a dark, retro arcade for kids of all ages, with flashing lights and colours and crazy sounds.
"Parents really like introducing their kids to the games they played as kids," says Winnipeg firefighter Ken Wegner, who runs the business along with his son, Oliver, and Wegner's mom, Mary.
The arcade features more than 20 arcade game from the '70s to the present, including Pong, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Dance Dance Revolution, as well as good old-fashioned pool. There's a coffee and reading area with black leather chairs for frazzled parents who need a time out more than their kids.
One third of the emporium is a bake shop. Ken learned the trade from his father, Eckhart Wegner, who owned Leo's Bakery in Winnipeg for years. Their cinnamon buns are famous, as are the breads, cream puffs, croissants, cheesecakes, breakfast sandwiches and fancy birthday cakes.
Getting tired yet? There's lots to do beyond the beaches when clouds roll over. It sure beats fighting in the cabin.
Maureen Scurfield is a natural adventurer who enjoys sharing her discoveries with like-minded souls.