By Shel Zolkewich
A slow drive across Hecla Island reveals a Manitoba landscape like no other. A handful of tidy cottages sit far back from the pebbled lakeshore. A cluster of historic buildings—a school, community hall and church—tells the story of Icelandic settlement on the island more a century ago. Out on frozen Lake Winnipeg, anglers drop rigs baited with minnows, waiting for delicious walleye to bite. This is the perfect destination for a winter weekend getaway. There’s snowshoeing, cross country skiing, skating and snowmobiling and, of course, ice fishing. Heck, there’s even a posh spa to warm your bones when the day is done.
With towering snow-covered spruces as a backdrop, trekkers can carve their own paths through the boreal forest that graces the island, starting at Grassy Narrows Marsh near the causeway all the way to lakeside trails leading to the North Point. For a more groomed experience, Gull Harbour trail is 5.5 kilometre long and snakes around Sunset Beach, offering sweeping views of Lake Winnipeg. Lakeview Hecla Resort rents snowshoes for $7.50 an hour and there are trails that start right at the hotel, too.
Experienced skiers will love the 15-kilometre Hamars Lake Trail as it heads toward the little inland lake then swings around to the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. The West Quarry trail is a little shorter at 12 kilometres and takes skiers to a warming shack, washrooms and the remnants of a fishing camp. The four-kilometre Cabin Loop, near the campground, is perfect for beginners.
Riders can take advantage of groomed trails snaking along the eastern shoreline toward Hokanson Point at the southern tip. Bring your own sled or rent one from Gull Harbour Marina for $250 for a four-hour excursion. The rental fee includes heated helmets for both driver and passenger. There’s also a network of trails that venture out on to Lake Winnipeg for longer trips.
Lace up the blades and circle the ponds that grace the front grounds of Hecla Lakeview Resort (for guests only). There’s usually a bonfire blazing and a cup of hot cocoa nearby. The scene is particularly magical under the stars. Over at Gull Harbour Marina, there’s a full-sized rink with real boards and overhead lighting so you can shoot and score late into the night.
Lake Winnipeg is a premier destination for ice fishing. A trip to Hecla Island makes it easy to partake in this chilly winter pastime. There are ice fishing shacks available both at the pier in Hecla Village and at Gull Harbour, just a few kilometres to the north. They include a woodstove and are free to use on a first-come, first-served basis. For a more luxurious experience, Gull Harbour Marina offers a full day of fishing in a posh SnoBear, an enclosed vehicle that gets your crew to the best spots. The excursion includes a guide and all the equipment you’ll need for $800 per day.
Good to know if you go…
Most of the snowshoe and ski trails are also great for winter hiking. There are five warming huts on the island along various trails. For overnight accommodations, Hecla Lakeview Resort offers rooms, a restaurant and pools, along with Sulka Spa (the Escape to Black Island treatment is highly recommended after a day in the wild). Gull Harbour Marina and Lighthouse Inn has a variety of rooms as well as a restaurant and lounge complete with a pool table. Both are open year-round.