The Heart of New Iceland: 10 things to do in Gimli on Lake Winnipeg
In Norse mythology Gimli is known as the most beautiful place in the after life, where only the worthy will be transported after death. But not to worry, a visit to Gimli on the shore of Lake Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba is very achievable in life! This lake-side town is about an hour drive north of Winnipeg and is a great summer or winter destination. It is rich in history, art, culture and outdoor discovery. So take a day trip up to the heart of New Iceland and discover all the ways Gimli lives up to its name.
1. Snap a selfie with the viking
Did you even go to Gimli if you didn't get a picture posing with its most recognizable monument? The five metre tall viking statue stands proud in the centre of the small Viking Park. The statue represents the community's strong ties to Iceland. The first Icelanders landed in Gimli in the 1870s and deemed the area New Iceland. Still today the community boasts the largest population of Icelandic descendants outside of Iceland.
Around the base of the viking statue you'll notice more hints at the Icelandic influence. Small houses sit nestled among the rocks near the walking path, they are there for the huldufólk or Icelandic elves, these mysterious creatures are said to be harmless when treated with respect but can get quite mischievous if you do not treat them well. Try to spot all their hidden houses during your visit, but don't touch, or they might play a trick on you.
2. Spend the summer on the beach
Picture this: you've got your toes in the sand, an ice cream cone with your favourite flavour in hand, and you're debating whether to relax on your beach blanket, wade into the cool waters of Lake Winnipeg or rent a sea-doo and race out onto the lake. Why not do it all? With kayak, sea-doos, and unicorn floaties for rent and sailing lessons just down the boardwalk in the harbour, Gimli beach has adventure for everyone, even if your definition of 'adventure' is getting your tan on.
3. Get out on the frozen lake
Lake Winnipeg isn't only an adventure destination in the summer, there are just as many exciting options in the winter. As soon as the ice is thick enough, a village of colourful ice shacks pops up around Gimli harbour. So grab your rod and your auger and reel in the fun with the ice fishing community.
4. Get in touch with Icelandic heritage
If you want to learn even more about the strong Icelandic heritage in Gimli, you have to visit the New Iceland Heritage Museum. The museum tells the story of the arrival of the first Icelanders in Manitoba – their struggles and their successes. In recent years the museum has also added exhibits about the first Ukrainians in the area as well as the important role of the Indigenous communities in the survival of those first settlers. Walk through time in the artifact-filled museum, dress up in viking garb for a photo-op, and browse the gift shop on the way out for specialty Icelandic and Manitoba-made products.
5. Shop at a 120-year-old store
H.P. Tergesen & Sons is an institution in Gimli. The store was established in 1899 as a general store and has been passed down through four generations of Tergesens. Though the building itself may be old, the products inside are modern and fun. The store carries clothing, locally-made jewellery, unique Gimli souvenirs and is the best place in the town to buy books. If you're in Gimli, no matter the time of year, a stop at this funky general store is a must.
6. Fill your belly
Gimli has a great array of tasty (and local!) places to stop for food. Start the morning with a coffee from Flatland Coffee Roasters who roast all their beans right in their Gimli storefront. For lunch walk along First Ave for a wide selection of delicious options, from fish & chips to unique pizzas to thai food. For an afternoon snack you have to try Vinarterta, an Icelandic-Manitoban layered cookie-cake, often filled with prune or apricot puree. Sugar Me Cookie Boutique Bakery makes this special dessert with a recipe that has been passed down for generations. Finally, end your day in Gimli with a casual dinner at the local Ship & Plough Pub. If you go on the right night you'll be able to catch some live music, a drag show or participate in karaoke or a pub quiz.
7. Celebrate, film, culture and winter!
Thousands of people flock to festivals in Gimli every year. In July the Gimli Film Festival attracts movie buffs, producers, cinematographers and people who just enjoy movies for a week of local and international film screenings. Some of the more popular events at the festival are the evening movie screenings on the beach. Bring a blanket and cuddle up with a friend to watch big-time movies at one of the most beautiful venues – the beach.
Just a few weeks later Islendingadagurinn (the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba) takes over the town. This festival celebrates the Icelandic heritage of the community, in both its past and present forms. Watch viking battles, listen to live music, compete in the Islendingadunk and become an honorary Icelander by eating dried fish and knocking back a shot of Icelandic schnapps.
If you're heading up to Gimli on the first weekend of March, you'll find some pretty wacky activities underway as part of the Gimli Ice Festival. Watch cars race on the frozen lake, compete in the frozen fish toss, yell and cheer during the viking demonstrations, cook bannock over the fire, and participate in some snowy team challenges. Gimli celebrates winter in a way nowhere else in Manitoba can.
8. Explore Camp Morton
When you visit Camp Morton, a tiny provincial park tucked away 8 km north of Gimli, it’s easy to understand why Monsignor Thomas W. Morton choose the spot in 1920 to develop a Roman Catholic summer camp for children. Crashing waves, verdant lawns, and fresh air abound - it’s pure solitude along the shores of Lake Winnipeg. The church closed the camp in the late 1960s, but remnants of its ornate architecture are left behind, making Camp Morton an idyllic spot to reflect and recharge in the summer. And in the winter the Gimli Ski Club maintains trails in the provincial park for cross-country skiing.
9. Discover an incredible piece of history
On July 23, 1983, a full passenger airplane ran out of fuel due to miscalculations and had to make an emergency landing at the defunct airforce base in Gimli which was and is still used as a racetrack in the summer months. No one on board the flight was injured despite the very dangerous landing. The Gimli Glider Exhibit tells the remarkable story in depth through video, personal recollections of the 1983 event and important artifacts. And you can get in the pilot's seat to try to land the out-of-action airplane yourself in their mock-cockpit simulator.
10. Walk the harbour wall
Take a stroll along the harbour to discover the outdoor seawall gallery. The Gimli Art Club created 72 small murals that show Gimli's history, landmarks from around Manitoba and important events, including the landing of the Gimli Glider. In the summer months you may see some of the artists re-touching their works or painting new ones where others have faded away.
Further information on Manitoba can be found at www.travelmanitoba.com.