6 Family-Friendly Activities on Hecla Island: What to Do on Your Next Trip

By David Janeson

Some say Hecla Island is the crown jewel of Lake Winnipeg.

Of course, they’re careful about who they say this around. There’s a lot of competition for the title.

What’s not controversial: Hecla Island is one of the top tourist destinations on Lake Winnipeg. Thanks to the loving embrace of Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park, it’s also among the southern lobe’s most unspoiled stretches of wilderness. If you’re bringing the family up for a long weekend, you’ll want to make time for these six unforgettable activities.

1. A Walk Back in Time at Hecla Village

Did you know that Hecla Island was once the site of a thriving fishing village populated by hardy Icelandic-Canadians?

It’s true. And it wasn’t even that long ago: back in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Today, Hecla Village isn’t actually inhabited, but several buildings have been restored or rebuilt to historical specifications.

 

“Kids of all ages love the short interpretive walk through the village, and parents appreciate the eye to historical detail.” — David Janeson

 

Come at the right time and you’ll get to explore some of the buildings themselves on a guided tour.

2. A Wildlife Viewing Adventure at Grassy Narrows Marsh

The wildlife viewing tower at Grassy Narrows Marsh is arguably the best place on the island to spot moose, deer, birds of prey, and other exciting animals. Come early in the morning or later in the evening for best results. And don’t forget your camera!

3. A Day (or Evening) at Sunset Beach

True to its name, Sunset Beach is a great place to watch the sun descend over the lake. It’s also a fantastic place to hang out with a good book on warm, sunny summer afternoons. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

4. An Afternoon Out on the Water

Hecla Island is surrounded by water, you know. If you didn’t bring a boat up with you, no sweat: just rent a kayak or canoe from a local outfitter and spend the day paddling out on the lake. Or inquire at Gull Harbour Marina about dinner cruises. Nothing beats an al fresco meal on a glass-smooth lake.

5. A Hearty Meal at the Harbour Dock

Well, almost nothing beats an al fresco meal out on the lake. The Harbour Dock Restaurant, Gull Harbour Marina’s full-service dining facility, has stunning water views and an always-changing menu that’s heavy on local fare. Yes, that means walleye and whitefish so fresh you’ll swear their gills were still moving.

6. A Cycle Around the Island

In case you haven’t noticed, Hecla Island is pretty flat. That’s great news for visiting cyclists, who can tool around the island’s roads without laboring up hills or nearly careening out of control on downslopes. Strap your road bike on the back of your car or rent one closer to the action — your choice. Or, if you’re really up for an adventure, consider cycling all the way up from Winnipeg. It’s only about 180 kilometers.

What’s your favorite thing to do on Hecla Island?

 

David Janeson owns Gull Harbour Marina, a seasonal lakeside resort on beautiful Hecla Island, Manitoba.

David Janeson & Gull Harbour Marina

David Janeson lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with his wife, Lori Janeson. He spends much of his time about 100 kilometers to the north, on beautiful Hecla Island in the southern part of Lake Winnipeg, where he owns a vacation cabin.

When he’s not hard at work on his various projects, Janeson enjoys spending time outdoors. An avid mountain biker, he’s working with the Maskwa Project and other local organizations to add more trails along the shores of Lake Winnipeg. During the summer, the Janesons explore Lake Winnipeg’s minor islands and shoals on kayaks. In winter, he treks across the open lake or plies the forested shorelands on cross country skis.

David Janeson Is Fixing Up Gull Harbour Marina

David Janeson wants outsiders to experience Lake Winnipeg as fully as he and Lori do. Since 2016, Dave and Lori Janeson have been proprietors of Gull Harbour Marina, a small property on the northeastern corner of Hecla Island. Dave’s overseeing an extensive renovation and refurbishment project that will add amenities, increase guest comfort and expand the range of activities available to Gull Harbour’s visitors.

“Anyone who visited Gull Harbour two years ago and returns today will immediately notice the difference,” says David Janeson.

Visitors to Gull Harbour Marina face minimal disruption from the renovation and refurbishment work. The facility remains open and fully operational during the summer season.

Setting the Scene: What To Do at Gull Harbour Marina

Gull Harbour Marina has four components: a full-service marina, a restaurant and bar, a store with an ice cream and espresso shop and overnight accommodations.

The marina is popular among Lake Winnipeg’s avid boating community. It supports powered and paddle craft of all sizes, with a refueling station, waste management capabilities for larger boats and the largest mobile boat lift in Manitoba. There’s also a full-service repair shop open for work on an as-needed basis, and berthing and storage solutions for overwintering.

Visitors who arrive at Gull Harbour by boat can take advantage of the facility’s affordable daily slip rental rates. Those who live in the area opt for monthly rental rates. Boat-less visitors can rent kayaks and fishing boats by the hour or day.

The Lighthouse Inn, Gull Harbour Marina’s full-service restaurant, has seating for up to 120 people. The Harbour Dock Restaurant serves a full menu, including authentic dishes that celebrate the region’s Icelandic roots and fishing heritage, with fully licensed drinks service at the adjacent Lil’ Viking Bar. The facility is ideal for corporate workshops, group retreats, birthdays and wedding rehearsals and receptions.

Gull Harbour Marina has 13 separate overnight accommodations: 12 rooms in various configurations and one private cabin. All rooms have waterfront views, with an on-site convenience store for last-minute needs and a firewood pile for visitors who want to enjoy a true backwoods experience on the beach. All also have a tub, shower and television; some have a microwave and fridge as well. The private cabin has a full kitchenette, making it a great choice for self-catering visitors.

What Visitors Love About Gull Harbour Marina

David and Lori Janeson are humble, low-key people—despite putting countless hours into what’s turned out to be an extensive upgrade to Gull Harbour Marina, they’re reluctant to wax eloquent about the results they’ve achieved.

But first-time and returning guests certainly have.

One summer 2017 visitor gushes, “Rooms are refurbished, staff is friendly and attentive … Food is some of the best I’ve ever had … Doesn’t cost a fortune to have an unforgettable weekend!!”

A Harbour Dock Restaurant diner who pulled their boat up to Gull Harbour for a bite says, “The food is very tasty … It’s hard not to be in a good mood when you are sitting on a patio overlooking a beautiful lake!”

A second diner was equally impressed: “We stopped here for supper and were not disappointed. Our waitress was friendly and the food was pretty tasty, especially the fish … it was so fresh.” They reserved special praise for the dessert item that’s quickly becoming a Harbour Dock Restaurant favorite: “If you like cinnamon buns, theirs are huge and very moist.” (Another diner insists the buns are “to die for.”)

A third diner took notice of one of the Janeson’s first major improvements at Gull Harbour: the expansion of Harbour Dock’s menu. “We have eaten here for years with a limited menu,” they say. “NOW it has a huge menu and everything myself and others in my group ate was scrumptious!”

As the Janesons continue to make improvements at Gull Harbour, they’re sure to hear more positive feedback from first-time and returning guests.

For instance, they’ve recently invested in a 37-foot yacht and a Zodiac speedboat. Tailor-made for leisurely jaunts around the lake and its inlet, the yacht made its inaugural dinner cruise in 2016, and the Janesons are keen on expanding their dinner cruise service in the years to come. The speedboat, meanwhile, is ideal for guided tours of farther-flung areas, including the minor islands dotting the narrows between the north and south sections of Lake Winnipeg. What’s more exhilarating than a wind-whipped ride out to a rocky point or cozy inlet untouched by human hands?

Out and About Near Gull Harbour Marina: What To Do in Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park

Gull Harbour Marina might be a great place to stay and dine, but it’s not the only reason to visit this beautiful corner of the world. Far from it.

The Janesons were initially drawn to Hecla Island by the area’s stunning natural beauty and abundance of recreational opportunities. Now that they’re in a position to welcome visitors of their own, they’re quick to direct folks to their favorite spots—some of which are among Manitoba’s top tourist destinations.

Gull Harbour Marina is located in Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park, which spreads across the middle basin of Lake Winnipeg: Hecla Island and Grindstone Black Island. The combined expanse covers more than 1,000 square kilometers of pristine woodlands, shoreline and marine habitats.

What can you get up to in Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park?

For starters, there’s the Hecla Village Scenic Drive, a leisurely 7-kilometer route just off Provincial Trunk Highway 8. The road winds along the shore of Lake Winnipeg, with steady views of Black Island in the distance.

During spring and autumn, this is a great spot to catch migratory birds, including majestic Canada geese, as they cover the great distance between their Canadian summer homes and their southerly winter homes. And more than two dozen bald eagle nesting pairs live along this route—it’s not unlikely that you’ll see at least one soaring aloft, peering down at the lake in search of tasty fish.

Intrepid visitors can’t miss Grassy Narrows Marsh, a reconstituted wetland on the southern end of Hecla Island. Grassy Narrows has an extensive network of dryland trails and wetland boardwalks suitable for hiking, mountain biking and Nordic skiing. Pelicans, eagles, terns, hawks, grebes and large game (including the occasional moose) call the marsh home. If you do nothing else while you’re here, check out the Wildlife Viewing Tower Trail, a leisurely jaunt (less than half an hour) that takes you through some of the marsh’s richest precincts. For a longer journey, take the 10-kilometer West Quarry Trail, which wends through forests and wetlands on its way to an abandoned fish camp and rock quarry.

During the warm months, make time for an afternoon at Gull Harbour Beach, not far from the resort. This natural white-sand beach never gets too crowded, and though the water isn’t exactly bath-like, it’s suitable for swimming as the summer goes on.

Finally, don’t leave Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park without getting a sampling of the area’s human history. Black Island, a culturally significant place for Canada’s Anishinabe Aboriginal people, contains some remaining evidence of pre-Columbian habitation: burial sites, caches and traces of structures.

On Hecla Island is an impressively well-preserved Icelandic fishing village, restored to its early 20th-century glory. Hecla Village, as it’s known, has a private home, church, school, community hall, fish house and boarding house. Some other structures remain in various states of refurbishment, but they’re not open to the public or safe to enter. Take the 1-kilometer self-guided tour trail for a look back at frontier life in New Iceland, one of Canada’s least-known cultural enclaves.

David Janeson’s Other Projects in New Iceland

One of the reasons David Janeson has committed to fix up Gull Harbour Marina is to create another accommodation option for cultural tourists interested in New Iceland’s history. Janeson helps build awareness of the area in other ways, including through support for Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park’s preservation and exhibition initiatives at Hecla Village.

Janeson is involved in other extracurricular projects as well. One that’s quite close to his heart is the Maskwa Project, a nonprofit organization started to “promote education and demonstration of energy conservation, environmental stewardship and appropriate technology.”

Maskwa’s Winnipeg campus provides after-school programming and other forms of support for disadvantaged urban youth. Its rural campus, located not far from Gull Harbour Marina on the banks of the beautiful Maskwa River, is an eco-friendly retreat center and a popular jumping-off point for excursions into the surrounding forests and wetlands. The rural retreat can sleep several dozen people in a main cottage, yurts and group camping site; it’s extremely popular with Scout groups, among other visitors.

The Maskwa Project is in the midst of a major three-year refurbishment campaign focusing mainly on its rural campus. The campaign has three prongs: an environmentally friendly construction and renovation project that will revamp the retreat’s main residential cottage, its sauna/bathhouse complex, and its outdoor kitchen; the installation of solar energy generation and water management infrastructure to reduce the retreat’s reliance on external power and water; and the expansion of on-site recreational programming and resources, such as kayaking and canoeing equipment.

David Janeson is also passionate about protecting Lake Winnipeg’s pristine waterways and wetlands for generations to come. He supports education initiatives for locals and outsiders unfamiliar with the multiple threats facing the lake and its tributaries: agricultural runoff, invasive species (including the dreaded zebra mussel) and climate change. He’s particularly interested in local wetland restoration projects, which use submerged platforms to build artificial marshes or restore lost marshland, expanding crucial habitats for vulnerable waterfowl, amphibians, fish and small mammals. And, as a rule, Janeson encourages visitors to Gull Harbour Marina—and nearby resorts and campsites—to think carefully about the ecological impact of their choices.

In the coming years, Janeson looks forward to hosting new guests at Gull Harbour Marina and finding a wider audience for his cultural and ecological passions. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be among those seduced by the unexpected charms of this unique part of Canada.