The Nautical World at Lake Winnipeg

by Gloria Gathercole (with John MacFarlane) 2017

Gimli Harbour

The Early Spring at the Harbour at Gimli MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Lake Winnipeg is Canada’s sixth–largest freshwater lake and the eleventh–largest freshwater lake in the world. It is 416 km (258 mi) from north to south. The lake was an important transportation route in the province before the railways reached Manitoba.

It always comes as a bit of a surprise to Canadians that Lake Winnipeg is large enough to support shipping and a significant fleet of commercial fishboats. The lake is very shallow which makes it very dangerous in windy weather. Historically several steamboats operated on the lake, including the Anson Northup, City of Selkirk, Colvile, Keenora, Premier, Princess, Winnitoba, Wolverine and the diesel–powered Lord Selkirk II passenger cruise ship.

On the left of the image is a grey building which houses the Harbour Master, constructed in 1910, rebuilt 1974. On the right side the Lake Winnipeg Visitor Centre. The Government of Canada provided the community of Gimli with a grant in 1898 to build a harbour in the community. A permanent dock was built in 1900 and a lighthouse was added in 1910. It is the site of a Canadian Coast Guard station and home to the CCGS Vakta.

Gimli Harbour

Fish Boats at Gimli MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Gimli Harbour

Fish Boats at Gimli MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Gimli was settled by Icelandic people who saw the potential of a commercial fishery on Lake Winnipeg.

I grew up in the area and returned about 17 years ago when my husband retired from the military. I've always loved our lake and it was that love that encouraged my interest in photography and that draws me to anything Lake Winnipeg related. The nearby harbours and the many boats moored in them during the summer months provide me with many photographic opportunities and hours of enjoyment.

Gimli Harbour

The Marina at Gimli MB. The Gimli Yacht Club is located in the harbour and is used for recreational sailing, as well as to teach sailing lessons. The site has been used competitively with races taking place in Gimli as part of the 1967 Pan American Games, the 1999 Pan American Games, and the 2017 Canada Summer Games. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

The community maintains a strong connection to Iceland and Icelandic culture today, including the annual Icelandic Festival.


The Namao berthed at Gimli MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

The CCGS Namao was built in Riverton MB by Riverton Boat Works Ltd. 31.52m x 8.56m x 3.54m steel hulled 328gt 104rt She is twin screw powred by 2-625bhp diesel engines. In 1975-2003 she was owned by the Minister of Fisheriies and Oceans. In 2011-2017 she was owned by Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium Inc., Gimli MB.


The Namao on May long weekend of 2015. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Storms can be quite violent and you can see on the left side of the image a large wave breaking over the breakwater near the Namao.

The Namao was a Class 900 Buoy Tender based in Selkird MB. In 1994 & 1996 she was used by the Geological Survey of Canada researching Lake Winnipeg. The vessel now carries out research on the rapidly declining ecological health of the Lake and the invasive zebra mussels which have recently infested the lake.

Hecla Harbour

The Harbour at Hecla MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Hecla Village is a historic village consisting of a fishing museum and functional commercial fishing operation at the Hecla Fish Station adjacent to the dock. The island was settled by the second wave of Icelandic immigrants in 1876. The population thrived for a number of years until faced with the hardships of winters, disease and poor economic outlook for commercial fishing and farming.


Fishboats at Hecla MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Lake Winnipeg has important commercial fisheries. Its catch makes up a major part of Manitoba's $30 million-a-year fishing industry.

Hecla Lighthouse

The Lighthouse at Hecla MB. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

Aids to navigation are important for mariners, and there is a set of marine charts for the lake.

Winter Storage

Vessels in Winter Storage. (Photo from the Gloria Gathercole collection.)

In winter vessels are withdrawn from the water and stored on land. The shallow waters freeze up. In spring they are relaunched.

To quote from this article please cite:

Gathercole, Gloria (with John MacFarlane) (2017) The Nautical World at Lake Winnipeg. 2017.

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