Lake Winnipeg is the origin and setting of much of Vikings of a Prairie Ocean. Its shores became home to Icelanders in 1875 when, forced from their country by a volcanic eruption, build a complex new society on the Lake.
The vast, freshwater lake runs for more than 416 kilometres from north to south. At its narrowest, the lake is still two and a half miles across, narrowing to two points known as the Dog Heads where the expansive northern section meets the narrower south.
As if by a knife, the geology of Canada is split, granite to the east and limestone to the west. Small granite islands and inlets reach out from a jagged shoreline to form the eastern point, East Dog Head. To the east, the lakeshore is a sea of undulating swamps, interspersed with granite cliffs. To the west, a short shale bar of flat, white, rounded rocks beckons like a crooked finger from a long, sweeping bay. Behind this are flatlands and swamps that become the Prairies, and then the long push to the Rocky Mountains.
If you could reach down to the mud below Lake Winnipeg, 6o feet in some places, more than 80 in others, you would be touching the bottom of the mightiest lake the world has ever known, with fifteen times the volume of Lake Superior and so vast that it once spread over the entire centre of the continent. When the glacial ice dam that formed the shores of Lake Agassiz broke up and disintegrated 8,500 years ago, it released a monumental torrent of freshwater into Hudson Bay, lifting global sea levels by as much as three meters. Some have linked this momentous event to the great flood in the time of Noah. Today, the legacy of a glacial past is a massive patchwork of lakes and rivers, now the catch basin of an expanse stretching across the interior of North America from the Rockies to the Canadian Shield, from the cornfields of the Midwest to the tundra of the North. The centre of this inland empire of water and land, Lake Agassiz’s greatest legacy, is Lake Winnipeg.
The curious name Dog Heads may make one ponder, but still ahead to the north are Black Bear Island, Lynx Harbour, Rabbit Point, Catfish Creek and Poplar Reefs. The names are echoes of a far older story reaching deeply into the history of this place and its Aboriginal inhabitants since time immemorial. Names like Matheson Island, Cox’s Light, Berens River, Humbug Bay, Hecla, Gimli and Selkirk are signposts of the arrival of European colonisers and settlers.
“Sometimes, when the evenings are bright and the lake dead calm, the cottage gang goes out into the Channel to bid the day goodbye. The mystery of the lake lives on. On nights like these, it has a mystical inner peace. Every star shines brighter than you see it anywhere else. The Northern Lights dance with a dazzling fury, darting across the sky in curtains dripping with light and colour. The surface is alive with the glow of the moon. To the east are the granite rocks of the Canadian Shield; there it begins or ends, depending on where you stand.”