Summer Travel ’09: Manitoba

Pride of the Prairies
Brian Banks

ManitobaWinnipeg Folk Festival/Winnipeg (July 9-12) First held in 1974, the Winnipeg Folk Festival is now regarded as one of the country’s premier outdoor festivals. This year, for the first time, the program has been extended to five days, kicking off with a show by Elvis Costello. In all, some 250 artists will perform for 60,000 spectators at seven stages on the grounds of Birds Hill Provincial Park, 20 km north of Winnipeg. Daytime performances are informal—artists often team up to jam, giving spectators a one-of-a-kind festival experience. In the evenings, the main stage is the focus, along with an alternate venue for acts on “the edge of folk.”

Icelandic Cultural Festival/Gimli (July 31-Aug. 3) Quick, what’s the largest Icelandic settlement outside of Iceland? If you said Gimli, you’d be right. The town of 5,800, on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, was the first community created by Icelandic immigrants who landed in the area in 1875. Visitors to this annual festival can sample music, crafts and local food and take in the New Iceland Heritage Museum. If they’re lucky, they might even bump into the president of Iceland—ties are so tight that sometimes the head of state attends. One other tip: arrive early and you can catch the Gimli Film Festival (July 24-28), a showcase for independent Canadian film.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

Beluga Whale-Watching/Churchill (late June to mid-August) Whale-watching has long been a familiar and popular attraction on Canada’s east and west coasts, but Churchill is now giving those two regions a run for their money. The whales in this case are belugas—some 57,000 of them live in Hudson Bay and every summer they enter the Churchill River estuary by the thousands to feed. Belugas are curious and sociable. Not only does that make them easier to spot and observe, but it also means adventurous travellers can kayak and even snorkel with these creatures. Some tour operators also drop microphones into the water and let visitors listen to the underwater vocalizing that’s earned them the nickname “sea canaries.”

Riding Mountain National Park Manitoba’s first national park, established in 1929, is a classic wilderness setting for viewing wildlife (bears, moose and elk) and rolling hills and valleys, whether your mode of transit is hiking, cycling or even horseback riding. The “mountain” in Riding Mountain is actually a steeply rising portion of the Manitoba Escarpment, from which large portions of the 2,973-sq.-km park are visible. The famous early conservationist and author Grey Owl did some of his early beaver research in Riding Mountain Park before moving to Saskatchewan. Today, his cabin on Beaver Lodge Lake stands preserved and accessible via a quiet trail through a forest of aspen, balsam poplar, jack pine and white spruce.

Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre/Morden Several hundred kilometres south of Riding Mountain, in the Pembina Valley, the Manitoba Escarpment persists as an important feature, but with a twist. In the early 1970s, miners working the same hills discovered extensive deposits of marine fossils. Fast-forward to the present, and the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden boasts the largest collection of marine invertebrate fossils in Canada. Visitors to the museum not only get to see this collection, but they can elect to join CFDC paleontological staff in the quest for more fossils at a 109-acre escarpment property it purchased in 2005. Stay a few hours or a few days—it’s up to you.