Manitoba

Want weird? Manitoba has plenty of peculiar places to visit this summer

If you're looking for an offbeat vacation this summer, Manitoba has no shortage of the quirky and curious — not to mention medieval, far out, ghostly and just plain magical.
Pilehenge, also known as the Cement Cemetery, is a cluster of concrete spires in the Rural Municipality of Rosser, just northwest of Winnipeg. (Gordon Goldsborough/mhs.mb.ca)

Bored of the beach? Cold to camping? Looking for something more offbeat to visit this summer?

Manitoba has no shortage of the quirky and curious options — not to mention medieval, otherworldly, ghostly and just plain magical.

"Manitoba brings out the explorer in you because it's is the kind of place where you need to scratch beneath the surface," said Jillian Recksiedler with Travel Manitoba.

This province has a lot more than we give it credit for. The more I explore, the more my mind is blown.- Jillian Recksiedler, Travel Manitoba.

"And when you do, you unearth fascinating tales and discover really some offbeat attractions. You feel like you're discovering something for the first time, something very few people know about."

Chris Rutkowski, a Winnipeg science writer who "specializes in the strange and unusual" and is the author of Unnatural History: True Manitoba Mysteries, echoed that appraisal.

"I would say that Manitoba has a wonderful history of the offbeat and unusual that doesn't make most tourist guidebooks."

Within the province are sites related to the spiritual, the supernatural and the sacred, he said.

"This province has a lot more than we give it credit for. The more I explore, the more my mind is blown," added Recksiedler.

On that note, here are a few suggestions:


Great Spirit

Indigenous terms and legends are preserved in the name Manitoba. A plaque commemorating its origin is located on the east side of the Lake Manitoba Narrows. (Manitoba Historical Society/Gordon Goldsborough)

Why not start with a day trip through the Lake Manitoba Narrows to discover the origin of the province's name and its connection to an Indigenous spirit known as Manitou, or Manito-bau in Ojibway.

In stormy weather, waves crashing on the limestone rocks of the narrows — the slimmest stretch of water between the northern and southern parts of Lake Manitoba — resounded eerily, and people believed the sound came from a huge drum beaten by the great spirit.

The Cree referred to the area as manitou-wapow, which means the strait of Manitou.

The Indigenous people told the stories to the fur traders and explorers but never wrote the names down. Instead, the European visitors, like Thomas Spence, wrote it as Manitobah.

When it came time for Confederation in 1870, the "h" was dropped but the name stuck.

A plaque commemorating the origin is located on the east side of the Lake Manitoba Narrows.

Manitoba monsters

Stories of Sasquatch (Bigfoot) in Manitoba's forested areas, or the water snake known as Manipogo have been told for generations.

  • Sasquatch

A still from a YouTube video claiming to document a sasquatch sighting near Easterville. (YouTube/Sasquatch Central)

According to Rutkowski,  West Hawk Lake is the site of one of the most famous Sasquatch spottings. The creature was seen near the Lily Pond, about 15 kilometres north of the lake on Highway 44, on June 7, 1990.

It was raining, and as a woman drove around a bend at about 1 p.m., she claimed she braked suddenly when a creature about six to seven feet tall appeared on the road in front of her car. It was wet with matted hair all over its body, Rutkwoski said, noting eight footprints were later found, each about 18 inches long and nine inches wide.

Sasquatch spottings have also been reported during the last 20 years in Beaconia, Gillam and Easterville.

Another case was in September 1973, when conservation officer Bob Uchtmann was working near Landry Lake, west of The Pas. He came upon several large footprints, each about 18 inches long, in hard, compacted ground. They were 28 inches apart, indicating an extremely long stride. The cast of one footprint is currently on display in the Sam Waller Museum in The Pas.

  • Manipogo

Just north of Toutes Aides on Highway 276, it's the site of numerous sightings of Manipogo, Manitoba's Loch Ness Monster.

Since the late 1800s, people have claimed to seen the creature, but no conclusive evidence of the monster's existence has been found.

Richard Vincent snapped this photo in 1962 of something he originally claimed to be a serpent in Lake Manitoba near Meadow Portage. The edge of the boat is in the foreground. (Richard Vincent)

  • T-Rex of the sea

While the legitimacy of Sasquatch and Manipogo are still up for debate, there are others whose time in Manitoba is well documented and they are waiting to meet you at Morden's Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre.

Mosasaurs, huge reptiles known as the "T-Rex of the sea" have been unearthed and put on display. One of those is Bruce, the world's largest publicly-displayed mosasaur, who comes in at 13-metres long.

Bruce is the world's largest publicly-displayed mosasaur. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Fossil hunting

Manitoba is loaded with fossilized prehistoric creatures, many trapped in its famous Tyndall stone.

People can hunt for their own in numerous places. The quarries in the Interlake region, in Garson and Tyndall, are prime fossil-finding spots, according to Travel Manitoba.

"Amid the primordial rock, you will find everything from fossilized cephalopods to traces of corals and other prehistoric vegetation," a blog post on the agency's website states.

You can also try your archeological skills at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden through their public paleontology program.

Strange mounds

  • Linear Mounds National Historic Site

In southwestern Manitoba, close to the Saskatchewan border, is a National Historic Site where unusual linear mounds dating from 900-1400 AD can be seen.

The Linear Mounds burial site dates from 900 to 1400 AD and are a complex constructions of soil, bone and other materials. (Parks Canada)

The hills are actually mortuary mounds created by Indigenous peoples and are among the best-preserved anywhere, according to Parks Canada.

There are three mounds spread out over a large area of land and are made from a complex constructions of soil, bone and other materials.

  • Pilot Mound

This 116-foot-high hill is one of the most important historical landmarks in Manitoba, according to Rutkowski.

It was caused by an upheaval of natural gas beneath the ground many, many years ago. But on its summit is a small circular hill that was built by ancient Indigenous peoples, Rutkowski said.

In 1908 a Toronto University archaeological excavation unearthed relics on the mound, suggesting it was a sacred site. (Government of Manitoba)

In 1908 a Toronto University archeological excavation unearthed relics suggesting it was a sacred site. The Plains Cree called it "Little Dance Hill" (Mepawaquomoshin) and travelled great distances to hold ceremonial dances on its summit.

Prisoners of war

German prisoners of war were once housed in barracks in Riding Mountain National Park during the Second World War. (Parks Canada)

During the Second World War, Canada housed several prisoners of war in labour camps across the country. At its peak, the camps held 34,000 men at more than two dozen sites.

One of the smaller and more unconventional ones was in Riding Mountain National Park on Whitewater Lake. The camp consisted of fifteen buildings and housed 440 to 450 prisoners of war between 1943-1945.

It was the only POW camp in North America not to be bounded by a fence or barbed wire, as its isolation made escape unfeasible.

In fact, the prisoners were paid for their labour, and often used that money to order things from the Eaton's catalogue. They also attended dances in nearby communities.

The buildings were long ago cleared away and the site, to the uninformed, is simply a clearing used for backcountry camping.

Friends of Riding Mountain National Park offer an interpretive horse-drawn wagon tour of the site, which includes a catered lunch of authentic German cuisine. 

Magnetic Hill

Manitoba's Magnetic Hill is on Harlington Road, just west of the Highway 487 turnoff to the Thunder Hill Ski Area. Locals say the magnetism will pull a car in neutral up a hill. (Courtesy Chris Rutkowski)

New Brunswick's famous Magnetic Hill is place where cars seem to roll uphill, but it's not the only place in Canada where that natural law of gravity is defied.

Manitoba has one too, according to Rutkowski. It's on Harlington Road, three kilometres west of the Highway 487 turnoff to the Thunder Hill Ski Area. Local residents say that you can put your car or truck in neutral, and with the brakes off, you start moving apparently uphill.

Philip's Magical Paradise

Philip’s Magical Paradise specializes in the history of magic and was named for Philip Jason Hornan, a 15-year-old magician and escape artist who died of cancer. The museum was established by his family. (Gordon Goldsborough/Manitoba Historical Society)

Located in the village of Giroux, near Steinbach, is a museum dedicated to magic and built in tribute to a 15-year-old boy who worked to master the craft before cancer claimed his life in 1986.

Philip Hornan loved magic so much, he asked that a museum be built so that other children could learn about and enjoy magic as much as he, according to Rutkowski.The castle-shaped museum contains objects donated by famed Winnipeg illusionists Dean Gunnarson and Doug Henning. One of two coins donated by Henning was actually used by the other world-famous illusionist, Harry Houdini.

The museum contains many examples of tricks, often has a live performer, and has a gift shop where you can pick up something and try your own hand at magic.

Pilehenge

Also known as the Cement Cemetery, the cluster of concrete spires is in the Rural Municipality of Rosser, just northwest of Winnipeg.

The Stonehenge-like collection is built of concrete pilings, which are used in construction of buildings to support the foundation.

"Well-known to locals, the actual purpose of the smattering of thin cement spikes has never been 'concretely' nailed down," states an entry on the Atlas Obscura website.

There are numbers etched into the poles suggesting they are likely the remnants of concrete testing. The site was once owned by Inland Cement in the 1950s and '60s.

Or maybe there's another explanation . . .

"Clearly [it's] an ancient structure designed as homage to our alien ancestors … under guidance from extraterrestrials," Rutkowski said tongue-in-cheek.

To get there, drive to the corner of Sturgeon Road and Inkster Avenue, then head north on Sturgeon.

Haunted sites

There are numerous stories of haunted places in the province and many are well known — Winnipeg's Hotel Fort Garry, Hamilton House, and the Marlborough Hotel are among the most common — but there are plenty more places around Manitoba where there seems to be some unrest among the departed.

  • The nunnery
L'Auberge Clémence Inn on the Prairie. Was once a nunnery, now a B&B and retreat. (Courtesy Chris Rutkowski)

A former nun's residence, L'Auberge Clémence Inn on the Prairie is now a bed-and-breakfast and retreat centre in Elie.

According to Rutkowski, guests have heard footsteps on the wooden stairs without anyone being near. Doors have opened and closed by themselves, and glimpses of a figure have been seen moving in several rooms.

  • Devil's islands
Devil's Island, located northeast of Albert Beach. Some of those who visit have claimed to be driven away by eerie events. (Courtesy Chris Rutkowski)

Similar haunted stories are told about two islands in Manitoba, both known to local residents as Devil's Island.

One is located east of Camperville in the middle of Lake Winnipegosis and the other is in Lake Winnipeg, about six kilometres northeast of Albert Beach. There are tales of people who have camped on the islands only to wake in a panic and leave in the night, chased away by eerie lights and sounds, according to Rutkowski.

  • Thorgeir's Ghost

The tale of Thorgeir's ghost is told by Icelandic settlers to the Hecla area, of a skinned bull that came back to life after being readied for butchering. Legend says it has been seen roaming the fields between Gimli and Riverton, according to Rutkowski.

  • Woodridge spook light
Light appears on an isolated road just south of Woodridge in this old black-and-white photo. (Stan Macklin)

Since the 1930s, stories have been told about the light dancing at the end of a road along the railway line just east of Woodridge in southeast Manitoba. Rutkowski said the stories claim the light is a lantern carried by the headless ghost of a man who was killed by a train many years ago.

If you want to venture out and wait for it, the location is just south of Highway 203, east of town.

  • Ninette Sanitorium
The Ninette Sanatorium opened in May 1909 and over the next several decades, the facility grew into the largest sanatorium in the province, comprising over a dozen buildings. With advances in medicine it was eventually not required and closed down in 1972. (Gordon Goldsborough/Manitoba Historical Society)

The sanatorium on Pelican Lake, near Ninette, was opened in May of 1910. It was a place where people suffering the horrible effects of tuberculosis were treated and patients often required operations.

During the 1940s and '50s, advancements were made in the drug treatment approach to TB and the requirement for sanitoriums declined. The one in Ninetette closed up in 1972 but stories of haunting have persisted ever since.

UFO sites

  • Falcon Lake Incident

Stefan Michalak, an amateur geologist who liked to venture into the wilderness around Falcon Lake, was prospecting on May 20, 1967, when he was burned by what he claimed was one of two flying saucers that landed near him. Michalak suffered a grid of burn marks on his chest while his shirt and cap were set ablaze.

Ufologists consider it to be one of the most well-documented UFO stories in Canada.

The site is still accessible near the gravel pits north of town, and you can go on a guided horseback UFO ride to the site from Falcon Beach Ranch.

Stefan Michalak was treated at a hospital for burns to his chest and stomach that later turned into raised sores on a grid-like pattern. He said it was from a flying saucer that landed near him.
  • Charlie Redstar

In the mid-1970s, the town of Carman and some surrounding communities — Sperling, Elm Creek, Roland, Halbstadt — became a hotbed for UFO sightings. In particular, a vibrating red light or series of lights, that became known as Charlie Redstar.

It all started April 10, 1975, when Bob and Elaine Diemert were walking from their farmhouse to their private airfield in Carman and saw a big red light coming at them. It had a dome on top and was pulsing.

The history of the Charlie Redstar phenomenon still resonates today. (Courtesy Chris Rutkowski)

The Diemerts continued to see saucer-shaped objects a few more times. Then, starting May 7, 1975, nightly sightings began that lasted for months. People gathered at the couple's field for UFO-watching parties and to spot Charlie Redstar as it skimmed over trees on the horizon before soaring overhead.

Some locals claim the lights can still be seen today, if you know where to look, according to Rutkowski.

Medieval festival

The two-day Medieval Festival of music, dance, chivalry, food and merriment goes July 28-29. Jousting is optional. (Travel Manitoba)

The Cooks' Creek Medieval Festival, which goes July 28-29 this year, only happens every two years.

It features full contact jousting, heavy combat in armour, archery, a merchant marketplace, kids' games, a live chess tournament, puppet shows, a medieval petting zoo, a garden of ale, early music in the cathedral, fire dancing, evening banquet and more.

Manitoba's almost-desert

In a province covered by snow for several months of the year, there is a place that very much resembles a desert in Manitoba.

Sand, cacti and high temperatures make it tempting to label Spirit Sands as a desert but the area receives 300-500 millimetres of moisture annually, which is twice the amount received in a true desert region, according to the Manitoba Government

"World-renowned nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton walked the sandhills wanting to learn more about nature. Now, visitors come to see this rare and unusual part of Manitoba's natural legacy," the province's website states.

Sand, cacti and high temperatures make it tempting to call Spirit Sands a desert but the area receives 300-500 millimetres of moisture annually, which is twice the amount received in a true desert region, according to the Manitoba Government. (Manitoba Trails Project)

There are a few places in Canada and nowhere else in Manitoba with such large stretches of open sand. They are also a place of great spiritual significance for Manitoba's Indigenous peoples.

"Although quickly being encroached by vegetation such as wild grasses and poison ivy, there're still sand dunes to climb and explore," said Rutkowski. "And the Devils Punch Bowl is a bowl-shaped depression 45 metres deep in the sand hills, caused by underground streams."

Camping, swimming, biking and canoeing are also available and visitors are advised to keep an eye out for the Prairie skink, the only lizard species in Manitoba and one of only six native lizard species in Canada.

The Northern Prairie Skink is only found in one part of Canada – southwestern Manitoba, and is restricted to sandy soils with mixed grass prairie vegetation, according to the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation. (Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation)

Ancient craters

  • Lake St. Martin

The largest meteorite impact crater in Manitoba is located at Gypsumville, on the north bank of Lake St. Martin. Actually, it's more accurate to say Gypsumville is located at the crater.

The entire town and hundreds of surrounding acres sit inside the crater itself, according to Rutkowski. Beneath the ground is a 220-million-year-old crater that is 40 kilometres wide, making it the fifth-largest in all of Canada.

  • West Hawk Lake

An older, but smaller crater is located in Whiteshell Provincial Park is known more popularly as West Hawk Lake.

The 330-million-year-old crater is about 2.5 kilometres across and full of water. Speaking of being full, visitors can fill up on all kinds of meteor-themed food around town and at the beach.

West Hawk Lake in the Whiteshell is a water-filled, 330-million-year-old crater. (Courtesy Chris Rutkowski)

Kettle Stones

Northeast of Swan River is Kettle Stones Provincial Park, home to dozens of huge boulders left behind by ancient glacial Lake Agassiz, which once covered a vast area of Manitoba as well as parts of northwest Ontario, Saskatchewan and the northern U.S. Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis are remnants of Agassiz.

The origin of the kettle name is unknown but it is generally believed it is because many of them resemble household kettles or kettle drums. (Manitoba Government)

The kettle stones are considered sacred by Indigenous peoples. The Kettle Hills have been, and continue to be, used by local First Nations people for traditional resource harvesting-hunting, trapping, and gathering berries and plants for food and ceremonial use, according to the provincial government.

​The origin of the kettle name is unknown but it is generally believed it is because many of them resemble household kettles or kettle drums.

Petroforms and pictographs

From Travel Manitoba: Some 1,500 years ago, First Nations peoples designated their sacred places with designs depicting wildlife, people and traditional objects. These so-called pictographs and petroforms can be found throughout Manitoba.

Pictographs are stories and images depicting Aboriginal scenes painted using red ochre (naturally tinted clays found in the soil and earth) on cliff faces. In Manitoba, they can be found on rock cliffs lining many of the province's waterways including Tramping Lake on the Grass River and upstream from Artery Lake on the Bloodvein Canadian Heritage River.

Petroforms are mosaics made by stacking and placing boulders and rocks on forest floors.

  • Bannock Point Petroforms

Located in Whiteshell Provincial Park, just off of Highway 307.

The petroforms at Bannock Point are laid out on bedrock in the forms of turtles, snakes, humans and abstract patterns. Anishinabe and other First Nations people believe that they were left here long ago for the benefit of all people that might visit this site to receive their teachings and healing, according to the provincial government. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The petroforms at Bannock Point are laid out on bedrock in the forms of turtles, snakes, humans and abstract patterns. Anishinabe and other First Nations people believe that they were left here long ago for the benefit of all people that might visit this site to receive their teachings and healing, according to the provincial government website.

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

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