September 19, 2020

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Intrepid Interlake

From Vikings to kayaks, from one lake to another, it's a region with bountiful surprises

It rests between two massive lakes, a land of great diversity, from white sand beaches to sprawling pastures of spruce, swamp and stone. It can be whimsical and haunting, offering a cotton-candy-wrapped ice cream cone in one moment and a walk through a collection of concrete statues in an abandoned farmyard the next. It can fill your belly with a buttery pickerel dinner and fill your soul with a sunrise hike on a boreal island. This is the Interlake.

And there’s no better time to take a drive than as summer has its last hurrah and fall quietly steps in. You’ll get the best of both seasons. Fill your tank and head into the land between the lakes. Here we go!

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Aaron’s on the Lake B&B in Matlock offers the Pierview Room.</p>

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press

Aaron’s on the Lake B&B in Matlock offers the Pierview Room.

Where is it?

The Interlake is bordered by Lockport to the south and Gypsumville to the north. Its eastern boundary is Lake Winnipeg and its western edge is Lake Manitoba. It includes the City of Selkirk along with the towns of Stonewall, Teulon, Winnipeg Beach, Arborg, Gimli, Riverton, Fisher Branch, Eriksdale, Lundar and Ashern, as well as the community of Hecla Island.

Lockport

First, we venture to Lockport, where the fishing is excellent and the shoreline beckons with the promise of hungry walleye, sauger, perch and freshwater drum. But really, this is catfish country. Big channel catfish country! Be prepared to hang on tight and hold on for a long stretch when that big fish grabs your hook. For a customized experience, hook up with an outfitter who will take you onto the river for a half-day of bicep-busting fun.

For retail therapy, head to Eveline Street Clothing across from the Lockport Inn, where shopkeeper Huda Cade stocks Manitoba’s largest selection of Fluevog shoes and boots and invites shoppers to come play dress-up any day of the week. Lockport is also home to Canvasback Pet Supplies, where you can pick up treats for the fur babies and perhaps a new collar, too.

Dunnottar

In the Village of Dunnottar, explore the lakeside beach communities of Matlock, Whytewold and Ponemah with their vintage cottages and meandering lanes. Be sure to fill your water bottle at the ever-flowing artesian well at the corner of Gimli Road and Whytewold Road, right at the lake.

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>The cosy Alrun blanket, imported from Iceland, at H.P. Tergesen and Sons in Gimli.</p>

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press

The cosy Alrun blanket, imported from Iceland, at H.P. Tergesen and Sons in Gimli.

Pop into the Whytewold Emporium for its signature crepes both savoury and sweet. For the night, Aaron’s on the Lake offers three ultra-cosy rooms with rich wood paneling, soft amber lighting and a custom-made charcuterie board upon arrival. Catch the sunrise from under the covers and wake up to waves of Canada geese gathering over Lake Winnipeg.

Gimli

Up the road in Gimli, a visit to the New Iceland Heritage Museum tells the tales of when Icelanders first arrived in the area, followed by Ukrainians and how fishing and farming shaped the future. Spend some time in the Viking’s Purse gift shop and take home a crocheted toque with Viking horns or a bar of Iceland’s irresistible Omnom Chocolate, recently made famous on Down to Earth with Zac Efron on Netflix.

After a long walk on the long pier, pop in to The Pier Lounge inside Lakeview Gimli Resort and treat yourself to Chef Mathew Watt’s pickerel cheek dip. The Gimli delicacy features roasted cheeks combined with cream cheese, onions, garlic, arugula and preserved lemons. Then it’s topped with a four-cheese blend and served with hot garlic buttered pita.

Riverton

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Chef Mathew Watt’s blackened pickerel alone is worth a visit to the Lakeview Gimli Resort.</p>

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press

Chef Mathew Watt’s blackened pickerel alone is worth a visit to the Lakeview Gimli Resort.

Keep tight to the western shore of Lake Winnipeg and you’ll soon be delivered to the town of Riverton. The first order of business is a selfie with Lundi, Manitoba’s largest moose. You’ll find him just off Reggie Leach Drive, the roadway named for the NHLer and Stanley Cup winner who hailed from this town. Then it’s on the Riverton MCC Thrift Store, a bustling boutique with rock bottom prices and sky high smiles from the staff.

Just north of town, look for the signs directing you to Integrity Foods. Wood fired ovens, ancient grains and a picturesque farm setting await visitors. Pick up a naturally leavened spelt loaf, their signature gingersnaps or a bag of irresistible granola with raisins and almonds.

Hecla Island

It started as a fishing village and that maritime charm persists with simple cottages perched on the lakeshore of a windswept island. Tour the heritage buildings in the village, watch the commercial fishers bring in their daily catch and go for a long walk with your birding checklist in hand. The Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail starts at Grassy Narrows Marsh, right off the causeway that connects the island to the mainland. Look for great grey owls, American three-toed woodpeckers and the striking Blackburnian warbler.

Grab a seat in the spacious patio at the Gull Harbour Marina & Lighthouse Inn overlooking the pier and lake. Order the pickerel tacos and a local brew, and watch the sailboats ply the channel between the mainland and Black Island.

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>The limestone cliffs of Steep Rock are a kayaker’s dream. Don’t forget to check out the caves, too.</p>

Shel Zolkewich / Winnipeg Free Press

The limestone cliffs of Steep Rock are a kayaker’s dream. Don’t forget to check out the caves, too.

Check in to the posh Lakeview Hecla Resort and take your pick — will it be an afternoon of golf or a spa visit? It’s easy to get distracted by the sweeping views of majestic Lake Winnipeg on the Hecla Lakeview Golf Course, but pay attention, you’ll need all your concentration to navigate the generous supply of large sand bunkers and natural water hazards on this 18 hole course.

Inside at Salka Spa, the name means peace in Icelandic and you’re sure to find it here. Let the twinkling chandeliers guide your way to a lavender and milk hydrotherapy session or indulge in the Escape to Black Island massage package.

Grahamdale

Point yourself west and head towards Lake Manitoba. This village is north of Ashern on Highway 6. This is where Armand Lemiez came from Belgium in 1894, and called himself an athlete, pioneer, blacksmith, carpenter, philanthropist, painter and sculptor. It’s his sculptures that still stand, outdoors, despite the harsh elements of a Canadian winter. At 72, the lifelong bachelor began 10 years of intensely creative work that resulted in 21 concrete sculptures. There’s an upright dinosaur shaking hands with a human, an alligator and a contemplative ape. A visit to the yard may result in the most bizarre Instagram posts on your feed. Look for the signs to the farmyard just south of this community.

Steep Rock

Limestone cliffs and bright blue water may make it feel as though you’ve taken a serious turn to the south, but fear not, you are still in Manitoba. Rent a ride from Steep Rock Kayak and visit the residents of Goat Island at this beachside hamlet on Lake Manitoba. When evening approaches, grab a seat atop the cliffs on the walking trails. It’s here you’ll catch the sunset. And it’s here you’ll never forget your visit to The Interlake.

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