Unless you live in Manitoba, it’s very unlikely that you’re familiar with Hecla Island. That’s okay. You’re the one missing out.
Hecla Island is an irregularly shaped teardrop of land in the northwestern section of Lake Winnipeg’s southern lobe. Connected to the mainland by a single causeway, it’s completely given over to Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park — one of the province’s most popular weekend getaways.
Longtime resident Lori Janeson succinctly explains why Hecla Island is so great: “For a relatively small island, Hecla has everything: historical sites, endless outdoor recreation opportunities, surprisingly diverse ecosystems, upscale resorts, and a unique culture oriented around Lake Winnipeg.”
Lori, her husband, David Janeson, and her fellow Hecla residents aren’t rushing to let the whole world know about Hecla. They’re happy to maintain the island’s unhurried, uncrowded vibe — by and large, it’s what drew them there in the first place.
But they’re also happy to share what makes their little slice of heaven so memorable. If that means a few more tourists wander up their way, so be it.
Where Is Hecla Island?
Hecla Island isn’t at the end of the world. It’s roughly two hours north of Winnipeg by road, weather permitting. It’s basically a straight shot north on Manitoba Highway 8, across a narrow causeway. The road to Hecla passes popular Lake Winnipeg beach towns like Winnipeg Beach, Sandy Hook, and Gimli. If you have time for a picnic lunch, check out Camp Morton Provincial Park, a bit more than halfway there.
“I always tell visitors to enjoy the ride up,” says Lori Janeson. “There’s so much to see on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.
First Nations, Vikings & Tourists: Hecla Island’s History
Hecla Island has a long, long history. Though the island wasn’t a major center of permanent habitation for the Anishinabe first peoples, it did occupy an important, even sacred place in the Anishinabe culture. Several ceremonial sites remain on the island, each a powerful reminder that those who live on the island today walk on the shoulders of giants.
The first Europeans to settle Hecla Island came in the 1870s, primarily from Iceland. For a time, Hecla was part of a semi-autonomous colony known as New Iceland. Today, more than one-third of all Canadians of Icelandic descent call Manitoba home; their ancestors’ way of life is memorialized at Hecla Village, one of the island’s most popular attractions.
The Icelanders’ subsistence economy has long since given way to tourism and recreation, but Hecla remains a special place for many who continue to make their home in the area.
Lori Janeson’s Guide to Outdoor Fun on Hecla Island
“Hecla Island is practically paradise for active tourists,” says Lori Janeson. Here’s just a small sampling of the outdoor activities she recommends:
- Hiking Grassy Narrows Marsh: Grassy Narrows Marsh is the island’s best place to glimpse big game, including moose. Check out the wildlife viewing tower for best results.
- Kayaking Around the Island: Lori Janeson, an avid kayaker, loves introducing newcomers to the sport. The placid waters between Hecla and the mainland are perfect for a lazy paddle.
- Swimming in the Lake: In late summer, the lake is plenty warm enough for swimming. Just remember to bring a towel — the breeze off the water gets chilly once you’re out.
- Biking Trails and Roads: Traffic rarely overwhelms on Hecla, even at the height of the summer tourist season. Careful bikers can get dozens of kilometers under their belt simply by circuiting the island’s roads. This is a great way to see more of the area’s surprisingly diverse ecology.
- Golfing at Lakeview: Hecla Island has an 18-hole championship golf course at Hecla Lakeview Resort — an unexpected and welcome find in an otherwise rustic land.
Things to Do on the Mainland
Every good Hecla Island trip must come to an end. (That is, unless you love the place enough to start looking at real estate on Hecla. That’s a whole different story.)
Leave some wiggle room in your itinerary to see a few sights on the way out.
“Hecla Island isn’t a self-contained destination,” says Lori Janeson. “There’s a lot to see on the mainland, and on nearby minor islands in Lake Winnipeg. The broader Interlake region [between Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Winnipegosis] is absolutely rife with things to do and places to see.”
Here’s a sampling of sights to hit within an hour or two of Hecla Island:
- Viking Park, Gimli: Gimli’s Viking Park is…well, let’s just say it’s worth a stop. The centerpiece is a gigantic Viking statue — an echo of the Paul Bunyan statues littering central North America.
- Pine Dock: It’s remote, and it’s in the other direction from Winnipeg, but that’s kind of the point. Located on the narrows between the north and south lobes of Lake Winnipeg, Pine Dock is worth the drive.
- Hnausa Beach Provincial Park: The small town of Hnausa has a tidy little beach that’s great for a quick stop or longer lounge.
Hecla in Any Season
Most outsiders think of Hecla Island as a summer destination. To be sure, it’s nice to visit when sitting on the porch doesn’t require five layers — and, at least in theory, when the water’s warm enough for a quick dip.
“We definitely see more tourist activity [on Hecla Island] in July and August,” says Lori Janeson. There’s a smaller spike in late September, she adds, during peak autumn color season.
But adventurous visitors shouldn’t be put off by chilly air or snow. With crisp blue skies, pure air, and zero crowds, winter in Hecla is an otherworldly experience. Shallow Lake Winnipeg freezes early and hard; by early December, it’s ready for heavy use. There’s nothing quite like racing a snowmobile across the glass-flat surface of Canada’s sixth-largest lake. Just be sure to avoid the fishing huts that sprout up near shore — hardy locals know that Lake Winnipeg’s fish are hungrier during the winter, when the heavens temporarily stop raining nutrients.
So, don’t bother counting the days until June. No matter when you arrive, locals will welcome you to Hecla Island with open arms.