By Bob Turner
In August, I decided to explore the northern-most part of Red River North. So with my wife and mother-in-law in tow, I headed up Highway 59 to Grand Marais, which is just 45 km north of Selkirk on Lake Winnipeg.
I had heard of East Beaches Heritage Wing, and knew Grand Marais had a storied past, but had never been there to investigate. The three of us spent a couple of very enjoyable hours there. Now I know it’s late to be encouraging you to visit this year, so if you can’t, it’s a “must see” destination to add to your list for next summer.
It took a couple of drives past the complex before I realized that Grand Marais Community Central and RV Park was indeed the home of East Beaches Heritage Wing, but once I got that sorted out, we were off and running.
Opened in July of 2015, the Heritage Wing has already had thousands of visitors who have gained a better understanding and appreciation of the East Beaches area’s natural beauty and diverse cultural history.
The Grand Marais Community Central building is constructed so that it resembles a train station of bygone years, and contains a travel Manitoba outlet, an RV Park registration office, meeting rooms, public washrooms, a large central hallway, where a crafters market had been held the day we arrived, and of course, its main feature:
The East Beaches Heritage Wing
There are a number of reasons why this won the Association of Manitoba Museums Award of Excellence for 2016. It is small, but mighty, filled with interactive displays that feature the history of the East Beaches area and Lake Winnipeg. There is no cost to view the exhibits, only a friendly request to help the operation with a donation.
Among the displays is an aquarium containing native turtles and fish; it is a self-sustaining microsystem of the Lake Winnipeg and Grand Marais Lagoon area. Visitors can learn of the origin, ecology and health of our majestic lake, the world’s tenth largest.
The display entitled Our Roots (1700s to mid-1900s) features stories from community elders about how they lived in the remote and rugged area of the time.
Visit the Glory Days (1916 to 1960s), when the newly-built railroad and a beach resort like none other in Manitoba beside one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, changed the face of the area forever.
Did you know that The Dance Pavillion back in 1917 was the largest dance hall in the Commonwealth? Sadly, it was destroyed by fire in the 1950’s.
In addition, there was a large carousel and boardwalk.. This is all depicted in a diorama which includes a model train that you can run, making it an enjoyable experience for young and old.You can also see a show about the old movies that were once featured in Harry’s Hideout.
Today and into the Future gives visitors a glimpse of what is next for the East Beaches area, such as plans for a primary healthcare clinic called “The Living 360 Centre”.
The exhibits are open all week from May to September long weekend.
Other features of Grand Marais/East Beaches
The RV Park, which opened in 2012, has 44 sites.
There are walking paths, picnic benches and plans for a memorial park.
There are a number of unique, historic buildings in the community of Grand Marais. The summer-time community of was established in 1914, and St. Jude’s Anglican Church is the oldest remaining building in the village, and also the strongest connection to the original Métis community that settled here. The church is of log construction, in the renowned Gothic Revival form, with a crenellated tower that rises from the front porch. The church is surrounded by a cemetery that contains the gravesites of many of Grand Marais’ earliest inhabitants.
You can’t miss the gaudily-painted Lanky’s Hot Dog Stand, the last remaining site along Grand Beach Road that recalls the line of commercial establishments that once dominated this strip – serving fast foods and entertainments, but also groceries and other necessities.
And if you are into winter activities, this an excellent place to enjoy cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and more!
All in all, it is a GRAND place to visit, and just one more reason…
Whatever the season
There’s always a reason
To spend time in Red River North