Located on the shores of Lake Winnipeg and an hour from Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital city, Gimli is known for its beaches, arts community, and Icelandic heritage. It’s a favorite day trip from the city and a charming destination in which to spend several days. Here are just a few reasons to visit Gimli.
1. Resort Town Vibe
Gimli sits on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, the world’s 11th-largest freshwater lake by surface area. The working harbor supports both commercial fishing vessels and pleasure crafts. The Gimli Yacht Club is one of the biggest sailing clubs on the prairies.
With miles and miles of sandy shoreline, there are many beaches and campgrounds in the area. There is even a sandy beach in the center of town.
The town contains a fun collection of unique shops as well as many eateries. During the summer months, its streets bustle with a festive, relaxed atmosphere as vacationers browse through the stores, gather for food and refreshment, or head to the beach.
When wandering through the town, look for blue heritage signs. They point out key aspects of the town’s history.
Be sure to pop into H.P. Tergesen & Sons Store and take a look around. The oldest operating store in Manitoba has been run by the Tergesen family since 1899. Located inside a historic building clad in pressed tin, the store sells an eclectic mix of products. You’ll find household items, family clothing, beachwear, local books, trinkets, giftware, and a variety of Icelandic products, including woolens and Viking helmets.
2. Icelandic Heritage
Gimli, which means “home of the gods” in Icelandic, is at the heart of what was once New Iceland, a settlement formed by Icelandic immigrants in the late 1800s. In 1875, the Canadian government granted Icelandic immigrants a reserve along the western shore of Lake Winnipeg. Over the next 40 years, over 20,000 Icelanders settled here, fleeing strings of hardships in their own country. New Iceland had its own constitution and government until 1887. Today, Gimli is more ethnically diverse, but its Icelandic roots and heritage remain strong.
The New Iceland Heritage Museum provides an interesting look into Icelandic immigration, the life of early settlers, and the overall history of the area. It also offers insight into the geography of Iceland.
A 15-foot Viking statue stands at the center of Viking Park. Accessible walkways in the park take you past three gardens planted with indigenous plants, grasses, and flowers. Among the water-loving plants of the Troll Storm Garden, you’ll find boulders stacked into troll-like shapes, with faces cut into the stone. Look for elf houses nestled among the rocks in the Elf Garden. In Norse legends, trolls turn to stone and elves (Huldufólk or “hidden people”) are highly regarded. Paving stones on one section of the walkway contain donor names and Norse runes. A back-lit heritage wall tells the story of Gimli and its Icelandic heritage.
Gimli hosts an Icelandic festival every August in Viking Park. Íslendingadagurinn (or the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba) features Viking battle re-enactments, traditional Icelandic costumes, booths highlighting the Old Norse way of life, music and entertainment, family games, and craft and food vendors. Each year the festival selects a woman to be the Fjallkona (Maid of the Mountain), the female incarnation of Iceland. Plaques listing the Fjallkonas line a timber-made walkway in Viking Park.
As you explore the town, don’t be surprised to hear the occasional Icelandic word or see addresses from Iceland next to visitors’ names in the museum guest book, especially around festival time.
Visit Sugar Me Cookie Boutique Bakery for vinarterta. Vinarterta came to Manitoba with the settlers from Iceland, where it was a popular treat at the time for special occasions. The torte traditionally consists of seven layers of very thin cake or cookie-like layers separated by a cardamom-spiced prune filling. Sometimes it is topped with buttercream icing, although the use of icing can be controversial, with some insisting a proper vinarterta is never iced. The popularity of vinarterta faded over time in Iceland, but not in New Iceland. Sugar Me Cookie layers its version with its signature sugar cookie.
3. The Beach
You’ll find a sandy, family-friendly stretch of beach in the heart of town at the end of Centre Street. Gimli Beach offers opportunities for swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, sunbathing, and building sand castles, and it boasts beautiful views across the lake. There are volleyball nets, picnic tables, accessible washroom facilities, outdoor showers, and a large play structure. The beach is monitored daily in the summer by Gimli Beach Patrols.
Note that because Lake Winnipeg has many miles of shoreline, you can also find a variety of other beaches in the areas north and south of Gimli.
4. Arts Community
Gimli has a thriving arts community. Be sure to visit the Gimli Art Club Gallery, at the end of Centre Street near the harbor. It features works by more than 70 artists in a wide array of media, including paintings, prints, collages, pottery, stained glass, fabric arts, and photography.
Every July, Gimli hosts the 5-day Gimli International Film Festival, the largest rural film festival in all of Canada. It screens local, national, and international films, documentaries, short films, and experimental media. The beach screenings that take place each night are a highlight of the festival.
5. Seawall Murals
Art and the beach meet at the Seawall Gallery. The 977-foot-long concrete seawall was built to protect the Gimli Marina from the high wind and waves of Lake Winnipeg. The wall features more than 70 murals painted by members of the Gimli Art Club. The pieces depict the region’s history, culture, and landscape. A wide walkway allows you to stroll over the water and along the wall to view the murals.
Over time, wind and sea moisture take their toll on the murals. Restoration is an ongoing process during the summer months. Occasionally, a new mural is painted over an old one.
6. Gimli Glider Museum
On July 23, 1983, an abandoned airfield in Gimli gained international attention when an Air Canada pilot made an emergency landing there after his Boeing 767 ran out of fuel. Captain Pearson was an experienced glider pilot who glided the plane for 17 minutes before touching down in Gimli. None of the 69 people on board were seriously injured.
The Gimli Glider Exhibit on Centre Street tells the story of that event. The museum contains components from that aircraft, donated pieces of memorabilia, stories written by local residents who played a role in that night’s events, and a flight simulator. You can watch an interesting film about the Gimli Glider in a small theater while seated on aircraft seats from the 767 model.
Note that the airstrip used by the Gimli Glider was a Canadian Forces base between 1941 and 1973. The CFB Gimli Memorial, a T-33 Silver Star plane mounted on a blue pedestal, sits along 1 Avenue in commemoration.
7. Fishing Legacy
Lake Winnipeg is home to a variety of fish. When the Icelanders came to Canada, they turned to fishing to develop an economy to support their settlement. Their first attempts were unsuccessful, but they persevered and learned to adapt old country skills to the new environment. The fishing industry they developed is still important to the community. The Lake Winnipeg Visitor Centre, housed in a former BC Packers fish processing plant next to the Gimli Art Club, pays tribute to the fishing industry and interprets the natural history of Lake Winnipeg.
Displays include a 500-gallon fish tank containing local species, a full-size 1940s whitefish boat, a miniature replica of the original fish packing plant, and stories of the original fishing families. Lake Winnipeg Visitor Center is open seasonally.
Pickerel fish, which is called walleye in most other parts of the world, is the most important commercial catch on Lake Winnipeg. It is a fine-flaked fish with a delicious, subtle flavor. Look for it on restaurant menus in town. You’ll find it in traditional fish and chips, in fish tacos, or served herb-marinated and pan seared.