Manitoba’s great island getaway

Hecla Island a fun and frosty escape


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‘We could use an ice auger,” I confessed.

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‘We could use an ice auger,” I confessed.

Tammy cheerfully assured, “I’ll find one!”


“I sell that.”

“One more thing. I couldn’t find our rods.”

Tammy replied, “Our Brayden has one.”

“One more thing. Coffee Crisp? A fishing licence?”

A fellow in a Mackinaw jacket stared with a look that says, “You’re the kind I can’t stand.” The store cat, Stripes, shunned me. Margie cringed and disappeared down an aisle at Gull Harbour’s General Store.

Other than that, I’d fully prepared for Margie’s first ice-fishing adventure.

The province provides two ice-shacks at Hecla Island’s Gull Harbour with benches, a stove, split logs, axe, and paper – without charge. The Conservation Department earlier advised me, “Shacks are ‘first come.’ Go early! Make it warm, and your wife can come later.” I thought, “Marriage is a pledge to serve the other, but can’t I come later?”

We arrived midweek at sunrise, half-asleep. The harbour sign, “No Wake Zone” had new meaning. While carefully treading the icy pier, the sign “Dock Slips” had new meaning.

Margie remained at the store ordering her licence, so I prepared the fire after all. Enduring failure after failure, I further split one, then two logs for kindling. I fed in a whole Saturday Free Press. Just as I felt like a loser, the fire burst alive. Margie entered and exclaimed, “Cosy!” I shrugged, “Survivorman.”

Brayden snowmobiled out with his auger and lucky rod. Choosing from five iced-up holes, he announced, “I have good vibes about this one.” Having ice-fished, I concurred, “That’s the one!”

The day before at Gull Harbour Inn’s restaurant, after Torque tap brews and fries near its fireplace, we bought huge cinnamon buns. I asked, “Where are these from?”

Staff answered, sadly, “From here, but now she’s… gone.”

I whispered to Margie, “She died! Think they’re fresh?”

In our ice-hut, Margie warmed the buns. We enjoyed cheese and our candy. Next time we’ll boil tea.

An hour passed with just nibbles downstairs. Teasers made off with two shiner tails. I convinced Margie, “So, there’s fish! Surely pickerel — big greenbacks. Emerald giants!”

That was it. A colourful wall poster flaunted pictures of Manitoba’s fifteen common angling fish. Ow.

But ice fishing isn’t all about catching fish. Escaping with anticipation to a hut on frozen waters with winds whooshing, comforted by a voracious humming fire, got us hooked. That surely helps explain Manitoba’s populous ice-shack villages, like at Gimli. Some folks call the sprawling community “Gimli East.”

As for fishing, Tammy later said January isn’t great. And maybe Wednesdays aren’t best. Maybe it was that hole.

I asked Tammy when Gull Harbour’s baker died. She shrieked, “Died? We spoke yesterday. She returned to her hometown two months ago.” Aha. What matters isn’t what people say. It’s what people hear. And good thing for big freezers.

We excitedly lodged at Hecla Lakeview Resort. Its lobby welcomes with water cascading over rocks among artfully carved trees. Curtains and wallpaper contrive a birch forest. Outside, sparkling blue-tinged gullies surround. Beyond the dark spruce, sunrises and sunsets deliver surprising skies of gold, pink, and mauve.

Bug-eyed swimmers like me emerge from Lakeview’s daring indoor-outdoor pool in minus-16-degrees uttering “Invigorating!” and “Epic!” Next to the enticing mineral pool, a sign at the hydrotherapy hot tub says to limit tub time to 10 minutes. Another sign says to order the four-beer Bucket Deal, sangria, or tequila — to “Hot tub like a boss.” A dilemma? Wink.

I investigated the kids’ pool complex — just for our grandson. I swirled down its dark three-storey waterslide. I got waylaid stepping on splash pad spouts. I took to drifting around its little lazy river, belting out George Strait’s River of Love. Margie said, “Let’s go! Families are coming.”

Leaving kiddie activities for kiddies, we rented a crazy carpet and saucer for Lakeview’s toboggan hill. The whole way down, Margie screamed. If you were on Hecla Island, you heard. That was her. Repeatedly. And I prefer seeing where I’m going at 90 km/hr but, on a saucer, that’s not an option. I lost some loose parts but didn’t need a stretcher. So, I went again. And again.

Gull Harbour’s store rents SnoBear vehicles with guides; four people can fish through floor hatches. You can rent snowmobiles — with heated helmets. I told Margie, “What’s awkward are the extension cords.”

Lakeview provides a rink and fire pits. It rents snowshoes and cross-country skis for provincial park trails. Spa patrons book facials and massages. Others purchase hair removal but it appears I’m now getting that for free.

If Lakeview’s water parks don’t soak you, rely on guestroom soaker tubs and multi-spout showers. If you’ve slept on a cloud, the beds are softer, and safer.

Despite its isolation, a cadre of long-term young employees, housed nearby, provide attentive, friendly service. Seagulls Restaurant’s drinky-poos include Brazen Hall brews and a bubbly delight called “Cure for the Winter Blues.” We relish each inventive meal. Skillets arrive on log cuts. Margie ordered pickerel — for breakfast and supper. She won’t get it at home.

And you won’t get such nearby respite as on Hecla Island.

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