By Lori Janeson
Hecla Island is one of Manitoba’s best-kept secrets. Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park, the vast wilderness preserve that encompasses the entire island, is arguably among the 10 best provincial parks in all of Canada. And the whole shebang is less than two hours’ drive from Winnipeg in good weather.
You could spend a week on Hecla Island and adjacent sections of the mainland and still not see everything that this northwoods paradise has to offer. In the interest of your schedule, what follows is an abbreviated list of things to do and see on Hecla. Plan right and you can hit most or all in the course of a long weekend.
1. Hecla Village (Self-Guided or Guided Tour)
Hecla Village is an early-20th century Icelandic fishing village that’s been restored to relatively good health through the tireless efforts of Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park staff.
The site now features “six stabilized buildings — a church, school, community hall, a period home, fish station and the partially completed boarding house,” according to the park’s website. Several others are “stabilized,” meaning they’re not in danger of collapse, but not suitable for tourists to enter either.
“You can take a leisurely self-guided walk around the village. Some buildings are open to the public, though it’s imperative that you heed any posted warnings and observe closing times.”—Lori Janeson
For more information, consider a guided tour. Check the website for current tour times.
2. Hecla Village Scenic Drive
This leisurely forest drive includes more than just Hecla Village. It passes through several kilometers of beautiful wilderness, hitting a variety of ecosystems along the way. You’ll wind up in the village, but be sure to take your time and have your camera handy for unexpected sights (bald eagles, big game) along the way.
3. Grassy Narrows Marsh Hike
Speaking of big game: Grassy Narrows Marsh, one of the most popular hikes in Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park, is probably the best place on the island to spot elusive moose.
“Viewing towers and blinds have been strategically situated for close observation of wildlife, including waterfowl, pelicans, hawks, terns, rare western grebes and Hecla’s largest mammal, the moose,” says the park’s website.
4. West Quarry Trail
Eager for a more vigorous walk? Try the West Quarry Trail, a 10-kilometer excursion that visits a disused limestone quarry and abandoned fish camp. The level of preservation is nowhere near what you’ll find at Hecla Village, but it’s definitely worth a stop to catch a glimpse of New Iceland’s nearly forgotten way of life.
5. Lighthouse Trail (Gull Harbour)
Like lighthouses? Then the Lighthouse Trail, near Gull Harbour at the very northeastern tip of Hecla Island, is an absolute must.
6. Golf at Lakeview Hecla Resort
Hecla Island isn’t all rustic, all the time. Lakeview Hecla Resort, the most upscale property on the island, has an 18-hole championship golf course that challenges even the most confident swingers. The course obviously isn’t open during the winter, but it tends to get going soon after the snow melts and the ground dries. In June, when afternoons seem to stretch on forever, there’s plenty of time for uncrowded tees.
7. Swimming at Gull Harbour and Sunset Beaches
Yes, you can swim in Lake Winnipeg. No, you probably don’t want to try it in early June, when you might run into the stray ice chunk left over from the spring breakup.
If you visit in August or early September, and the air temperature is sufficiently warm, hit Gull Harbour or Sunset beaches for a quick dip. After a long day of hiking, biking, or kayaking around the island, there’s nothing better.