When an erupting volcano threatened their homes in 1875, a number of Icelanders left their homeland and ended up around Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. They formed their own short-lived nation, the Republic of New Iceland. Gimli and Hecla Island are two vestiges of that settlement and still possess the largest number of Icelanders living outside of Iceland. The New Iceland Heritage Museum relates the story of the Icelandic exodus and also has displays about the area's Ukrainian heritage and the local fishing industry. In August, Gimli celebrates its Icelandic heritage with the festival Islendingadagurinn.
Locally known as "The Beaches," Winnipeg Beach is a strip of beach communities along Highway 9 and definitely worth a visit. Winnipeg Beach was the site of shooting for the Falcon Beach TV series and has a wonderful beachfront boardwalk offering signage that explains the historical significance and appeal of the area. Winnipeg Beach is 10 minutes south of Gimli and has some lovely shops and cafes to explore, and a nice public (family-friendly) swimming beach to enjoy during the summer months.
Hecla Island, 50 mi/80 km north of Gimli in Lake Winnipeg, is named after the volcano in Iceland that spurred the area's settlement. Hecla Provincial Park, a popular recreation area, has a small restored Icelandic fishing village. A self-guided trail through the village (past a church, an icehouse, fishing boats and homes) highlights the persistence of the settlers through difficult times. The Hecla Oasis Resort, built to reflect Icelandic architecture, is also in the park. It has an 18-hole golf course, a restaurant, a gym, spa and a marina. Gimli is 55 mi/90 km north of Winnipeg.
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