Driving across the Narrows, over the bridge that spans the tiny waist of Lake Manitoba, is an experience that will bring joy to the hearts of prairie dwellers. For a few brief moments, as you travel over the hump-backed bridge, it feels as though you are suspended between earth and sky, with blue both above and below. It’s a great feeling, this oneness with the sky. It suits us, who live here where the sky never ends.
But the airborne bridge is not the only surprise here. There are lovely sandy beaches and a well-developed lodge on the southern edge of the lake, just as you come off the bridge. The attractive restaurant is an ideal spot for dinner after a long day of basking in the sun. In addition to the sandy beaches, hunting is a big draw for the Narrows and ice-fishing in winter is another.
The nearest town of any size is Ashern (pop.1,500), which serves a local trading area of more than 10,000. Ashern is also home to a 15-bed hospital. Ashern has its own great beaches as well as a nine-hole golf course and more of the legendary fishing of the area as well as some very good festivals and other attractions.
Not far away by boat, as the fish runs, you might say, is Manitou Island, home of the legendary spirit, which gives Manitoba its name. The aboriginal people, hearing the booming echo of waves pounding against the limestone shingles of the island, believed it was the voice of the Great Spirit or Manitou. The word for the ‘narrows” was “bou”, so it’s easy to see how the word evolved into Manitoba.
To get there, take Highway 6 North from Winnipeg, then turn left at PTH 68 about 11 km north of Eriksdale. The drive, as you go up past Stonewall and Lake Francis, past Clarkleigh and Lundar, reminds you that the lake is nearby – it’s something in the air or in the way the fields unfold or the trees grow. The drive is scenic with picturesque fields and farms with many eye-catching views along the roadside.
When you finally reach the narrows, you will want to experience the bridge, then you may want to double back and enjoy the beaches, or go fishing, or hike one of the nature hikes or hire a boat ride, but by that time, well, you might just as well check into the Narrows West Lodge, where you can get a fabulous meal of fresh pickerel, watching the spectacular sunset over the lake.
Next morning, if you have time (and you should make time,) you can carry on, up Number 6, all the way to Thompson, if you like, or turn west and go over the bridge, past the Ebb and Flow First Nations Reserve, all the way to St. Rose du Lac, for a stop at the Grotto, then on to . . . but that’s another trip and another story.