The Gimli Breakwater

(This article was originally published in 2013 under the title The Gimli Seawall.)

One of the unique parts of Gimli is its seawall or breakwater.

We’re not talking here about the Main Pier. We’re talking about the paved strip of path from South Beach to town, one of the treasures we locals love.

Section from Colville Dr (formerly 4 Street S) looking North

Section from Colville Dr (formerly 4 Street S) looking North

Its history is stitched with layers of municipal politics and weather events.

It has been a fixture since at least 1956.

furthest southern portion

furthest southern portion

Following the curve of the shoreline along the south basin of the Gimli harbour.

AERIAL VIEW OF GIMLI HARBOUR

Photo credit, Dorothy Keizer

The seawall and the Viking seem to go hand in hand, inextricably tied.

Its creation was a Gimli Chamber of Commerce centennial project. Designed by Gissur Eliasson of the University of Manitoba, it was constructed by George Barone, the creator of other Manitoba statues, at a cost of $15,000. It was unveiled in 1967 by then-President of Iceland Asgeir Asgeirsson. The finished statue is 4.6 meters or 15 feet tall, constructed entirely of fiberglass.

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The requisite photo with “the Viking”

Historically the breakwater was a dike, paid for by the Federal Government who bequeathed it to the town to maintain in perpetuity. (Geez, thanks Feds).

finished breakwater in front of Betel Home

looking north towards Betel Home

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Breakwater construction, original section 2016

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Historic section in front of Betel Home

This historic section, in front of Betel Home, is one of the only remaining parts of the old wall.

The Gimli Town Council wanted to upgrade the waterfront as part of a master plan. With various twists and turns, including land agreements, harbour improvements, street surveying, and preparations to host the Pan American Games the seawall remained forever intertwined like a thread holding together an old quilt.

When the Betel Home was rebuilt, it necessitated the moving of the Viking statue. Originally Town Council was hoping to move the statue to the little jetty of land where the New Iceland heritage plaque sits. But this would have meant rerouting of streets and major public discussion. The Viking was moved instead to a little triangular lot which became town property.

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old section, the ‘architecture’ of which was three stones across

In preparation for the Pan Am Games Sailing venue in 1999, they finished dredging the harbour to a 12 foot depth and subsequently built a hill with the dredgate (affectionately referred to as “Bill’s Hill” after then mayor, William Barlow) to the south of Betel. The dredgate was so wet that it took a long time for the hill to settle.

Historic section in front of Betel Home

Historic section in front of Betel Home, Bill’s Hill to the right (south)

Thankfully the town left the old breakwater exposed.

It still shows through the grass and is still used as a bike path.

Feels like our own little slice of Hadrian’s Wall.

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looking northeast by the Viking Statue

The original ‘dike’ was so skinny, you would never think of actually walking on it for fear of falling in the lake.

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Historic section in front of Betel Home looking southwest

Sometime between 1956 and the 70’s the wall was widened to about 4-5 feet across and paved, covering up most of the original architecture.

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One homeowner’s addition to the seawall

Third Avenue homeowner's garden

Third Avenue homeowner’s garden

During the high water events of 2006-2007 and subsequent Provincial government diking fiasco, the wall was backfilled and had to be shorn up against a wooden parapet.

2006 construction

2006 construction

It does remain somewhat of a bastion of defence against the 3-day Autumn storms.

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Major cracks have developed this year making it almost treacherous for cyclists and joggers.

IMG_1331(Town Council please take note!)

Even though this year the Town paved the part of the path which bridges the south culvert (or what we used to call the Municipal Ditch), nothing has been done to maintain the southernly-most portion into South Beach.

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In the 1960’s the seawall stretched all the way to Morkill Street, if memory serves.

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Ultimate south end of seawall stretching in front of Isfjord’s

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Ultimate north end of seawall, running into the yacht club locker building

Over the years the seawall has been upgraded, but never maintained as the most beautiful scenic footpath from South Beach and the tourist-drawing treasure which it could be.

2013 SEPTEMBER UPDATE!!!!!!

Perhaps it was due to this blog post that the Council saw fit to repair the breakwater!

seawall update

Submitted by Evelyn Ward de Roo. Thanks to Bill Barlow for filling in the gaps.

Evans Store

Written by Evelyn Ward de Roo

Evans Store on Hansson Ave, at the corner of Anna, was a fixture to every kid in South Beach, Gimli. Forever. 

Evans Store Building in 2017. Put out to pasture behind 15 Hansson Avenue, Gimli.

My first memory of spending money was at Evans Store. My grandpa Percy would give me a nickel or dime and I would be allowed to walk by myself the 50 feet down the gravelly road to this tiny little convenience store.

Ev and Grandpa Percy, 1960

A wee brown paper bag was given to me to select my candy. Loose candy was laid out in the very boxes it came in from the wholesaler. Three for a penny. Five cents would yield 15 mint leaves! Bright green leaf-shaped gummies, the size of my thumb, covered with crystalline sugar. Liquorice ‘cigars’, blackballs, pixie stix, and the famous Koko bars. Old Dutch Potato Chips, Hawkins Cheezies and sunflower seed bags were neatly displayed in rows on a metal stand with little clips.

And soda pop. I don’t remember my mother ever buying pop at home in the city. Maybe we would be allowed one if we went to A & W. But in the summer I was allowed to go to Evans Store to buy pop.

A similar Coca Cola dispenser at Hnausa General Store.

Depositing my coins in the slot and extracting my pop meant sticking my hand into the ice cold water of the red Coca-Cola dispenser and grabbing the protruding bottle neck. There was a rag hanging on the side of the cooler to wipe the water off the bottle. Cream Soda, Orange Crush or Seven-Up.  A summertime treat.

Evans Store was owned by Anne and Mike Evans. The store was only 12 x 17 feet, really a glorified fruit stand. Judging by its construction it was no doubt built around the same time as Camp Sparling, the fresh air camp on the lake directly at the end of Hansson Ave. Farmers donated food to the fresh air camp but Evans Store serviced the camp staff for their treats. And cottagers for their staples. (In the early days cottagers were called campers.)

Mike and Anne, were of Ukrainian descent. Their name was undoubtedly changed from Ewanchuk.

Evans Wedding

Mike was a fisher and added to his income doing carpentry and odd jobs taking care of people’s cottages in the off-season. The store was in direct competition with Mike Shewega, his wife’s brother who had an identical camper’s convenience store only two blocks away on Colonization Road. However the Evans were reputed to have the best ice cream in the area.*

It had one of those screen doors with a metal band across as a push bar, the type which sported advertising. Evans Store was Coca Cola all the way. Ice cold coke in glass bottles. We would scour the ditches for empty pop bottles which could be redeemed for 2 cents a piece. Which meant more candy!

Eileen Evans, circa 1940

Opening the screen door would activate a lively bell which alerted Mr. or Mrs. Evans of a customers arrival. Hung inside among the sticky fly-catching strips coiling down from the ceiling was bologna and other quality deli meats from Manitoba Sausage. And great wieners for roasting over a bonfire. Mr. Evans would cut bacon slices individually off a big slab with a very sharp and well-worn knife. Shallow shelves nearly to the ceiling were lined with canned goods; coffee, jam, Red Rose tea, Klik, Spam, soup, Del Monte vegetables and fruits, pickles, cat and dog food. And fresh bread, milk and butter. Most of the basics needed by cottagers. When South Beach girls got old enough to need feminine hygiene products we could count on Evans Store to get us out of a jam. They were wrapped in brown kraft paper for discretion!  And of course Evans carried the ubiquitous cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars, no doubt the real profit makers.

In the 1940’s the Evans girls Eileen and Eleanor’s friend Marie Isfeld took a path all the way from the south end of Colonization Road through the wooded field to the store. Or Marie would meet them at the end of Hansson Ave and walk to school with them, either following the Arnason Dairy truck to break trail in the snow or riding on it. And much later her son Lawrence would be sent by his Afi (grandfather in Icelandic) to get cigarettes at the store, on credit. Credit was extended, graciously to most people in the area. When the South Beach mink ranchers sold off their pelts in November they would pay off their debt to the Evans.

All the overstock cigarettes and paper goods were stored in a shed behind the store, secured with a simple padlock. Evan’s granddaughter Lois remembers occasions when she would sleep over at her grandparents in the 1960’s waking up in the night to the sound of someone breaking in to the shed, mostly to steal cigarettes. In the winter the Evans would move the store into the porch area of their house directly behind the wee store. In later years burglars came in the early morning hours, terrified the elderly couple by tying them up and threatening them with a comb (though they thought it has a knife or gun) and robbed them. It made the Winnipeg radio news and that’s how their daughter Eileen found out about it. 

One day in May 1967 Anne Evans happened to look west down Hansson Ave. She saw a man lying on his front lawn. That man was my grandpa, Percy Wallace Carter. He was dead from a massive heart attack. The rake beside him. He’d been raking leaves in the early spring. Dead beside a cotoneaster bush. My grandmother napping only a few feet away in their cottage. Anne Evans called the R.C.M.P. who contacted my mother in the city. Anne Evans, the woman who stayed and comforted my grandmother.

Percy W. Carter, 6 Hansson Ave

Up until 1980, when my own father had heart problems, we never had a phone at our cottage. No one did. We always walked uptown to the harbour where there was a pay phone booth near the pier. But in an emergency everyone in South Beach knew they could use the Evans phone. It was in their house, right behind the store.

Anne and Eileen, ca. 1934

Anne Evans a stern, well-dressed woman. Mother of Eileen and Eleanor. Awarded a life membership in the Gimli Women’s Institute and noted best canvasser for the Cancer Society.** She herself died of cancer June 12, 1972 at the age of 69. The store had been closed before that when Anne had to go live in Winnipeg with her daughter Eileen due to ill health. Mike passed away in the early 1980’s.

The fact that my grandpa died raking leaves on the front lawn of what is now my cottage is actually a beautiful, comforting memory to me. Of course it was a traumatic event for my family, what death isn’t, causing all sorts of repercussions. But I will always remember Anne Evans and her compassion. And I will never forget Evans Store where I received my first education in financial literacy. 

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Foundation of Evans house, 2018

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Evans Store Building, 2018

Sources:

* “The Stores of Gimli”, by David Arnason, Interlake Pulse, 2013, pp. 44-45.

** Gimli Saga: The History of Gimli, Manitoba. Gimli: Gimli Women’s Institute, 1975, pp. 275 and 336.

Many thanks for the black and white photos, memories and fact checking of Evan’s grand-daughter Lois Bergman Marotta.  Also memories of Lorraine Hicks, Marie Isfeld, Lawrence Frantz, Susan Woodruff, Julie Ewanchuk, Sheryl Stephen, Wendy Rothwell Dunlop, Dan McKelvey, Barbera Buffie, Ken Kristjanson, Val Sobkowich Verity and Joanne Couture Burns.

Breakwaters in Gimli

Op Ed – Ken Kristjanson July 2019

The original settlers of Gimli came from Iceland in October 1875. They landed or were pushed off the M.S. Colville because the Captain of the contracted Hudsons Bay Company vessel was fearful of the lake going to freeze up. Their original destination was the Icelandic River 28 miles further North. In the Spring after a brutally cold winter spent in tents the new colony moved to present day Gimli.

As most of the colonists had been fisher folk in Iceland they set about pursuing this occupation. They built an ice house and a small pier to land and ultimately preserve their catch. This pier was to have consequences for those south of the pier. By blocking the natural movement of the sand the residents started to experience erosion. My father who was born in 1912 at 135 Third Ave well remembered the 4 different breakwaters built behind their home to combat the lake in wet years. They were wooden piles driven into the shoreline. They did the trick until they rotted out. I well remember with other kids walking on the old structure. Successive Governments did little to repair the damage as the lake appeared to level off.

With the coming of the CPR to Winnipeg Beach and finally to Gimli in 1906 many Winnipeg residents bought property and built summer cottages, mainly to escape the heat of the City and enjoy the beautiful lake beaches. The non-residents were always called Campers not Cottagers. At this time Church groups started building Fresh Air Camps.

Locations of the fresh air camps on Lake Winnipeg and their approximate periods of operation. Source: Manitoba Historical Society

The Methodist Church built Camp Sparling in South Beach around this time. I wrote a story about these Camps. It can be found here. The Church group realized the shifting sands and built groins in an effort to halt the sand movement.

Breakwater appearing in front of Camp Sparling (foreground), ca. 1930’s

As Lake Winnipeg is the watershed for all the water from the Rockies to Northern Ontario and parts of the United States it rises or falls depending on the amount of precipitation it receives. In what became known as the Dirty Thirties the lake was very low. This prompted real estate developers to buy land owned by Benedict Jonasson and sell cottage lots with a lake view. The map gives an over view.

The setting was idyllic. My brother Robert and I delivered the Tribune “best newspaper ever” to cottages east of ours during the War and after.

The Lake during the 40’s entered a wet cycle culminating with the 1950 flood. This brought a lot of moisture and problems to South Beach. The stone breakwater was constructed in the 1950’s starting at Betel Home. (For more on this The Gimli Breakwater).

Camp Sparling spent considerable funds at this time trying to defend their property with a high rock breakwater. The lake was unrelenting. They eventually abandoned the property and sold the land and buildings. Cottagers tried to build breakwaters. Most were frustrated by lack of Government and local support.

Broken Breakwater ca. 1952

Most, as the Carters and others did, was simply to move their cottages to higher ground. Thus letting the next Cottager to deal with the rising water.

We bought our property in 1972. The same year Hydro decided that the Lake was to be the future reservoir for the dams on the Nelson River. The former owner had decided to fight the mighty lake with a breakwater. This proved too much mentally and financially. The crunch came in 1974 with high water. (See Winnipeg Free Press.)

Hydro disclaimed any responsibility for the high water even though they had built Jenpeg to keep the lake high. Their answer was to build an earthen dike on Third Avenue. Those east of the dike were to be sacrificed at the alter of economy. Hydro hauled in limited sandbags to those properties east of Third as they deemed them salvageable. I had 18 volunteers from my office come at this time along with my wife, my kids and we put down 5000 sandbags. That night the lake peaked. The sandbags held. Dave McNabb and I put down an additional 2000 bags over the coming weeks and this did the trick. Paul Couture, I and about 20 other Cottagers requested and received a meeting with Hydro. They claimed the flooding was an Act of Nature, not their fault.

Over the next 40 years I with no financial or neighbourly support continued to strengthen the dike. Other lakefront owners at their own expense did the same. We in effect at our expense protected the other Cottagers of South Beach. Then Councillors Lynn Greenberg and Danny Luprypa attempted to help but were powerless. Now the Lake has settled into a dry cycle and all is forgotten. As is evidenced by the high water on the Great Lakes this year history might well repeat itself.

Note: The author neglects to mention the earthen dike which was erected by Emergency Measures Organization in 2007 all the way from Matlock to Arnes.

2007 Earthen Dike, EMO

Isfeld Family of South Beach

This speech was given by Lawrence Frantz, great grandson of Sigurjon Isfeld, at the launch of the book Gimli Harbour & Fishery: An Illustrated History, 2017

Sigurjon Eirksson Isfeld was born in 1874 on a farm called Fjaroarkot at the end of Mjoifjordur Inlet on the east coast of Iceland to Eirikur Palsson Isfeld and Ingibjorg Einarsdottir. In 1881 Eirikur drown while fishing leaving Ingibjourg with nine children. In 1884 Ingibjorg married Thorsteinn Jonsson, a farm hand she had hired to help out on the farm. We was 9 years younger than her. They had one son, Olafur (Oli) Thorsteinsson. In 1886 Sigurjon, his mother, step-father and most of his siblings left Iceland ending up in Akra (now Cavalier) North Dakota. 

The family moved to Husavik, New Iceland (Manitoba) in 1889 settling on NW 20-18-4E. Sigurjon started to raise huskies at this time. He married Maria Tofhildur Jonasson in April 1903. He was 29, she was 18. They had 4 children; Aurora (1904), Stefan (Steve)(1906), John (my Avi)(1909) and Emily (1912). It was when Sigurjon and Maria married that they received three acres of land on South Colonization Road from Maria’s parents Benedikt Jonasson and Anna Torfadottir who at the time owned a large portion of what is now South Beach. On this property (which is still in the family), Sigurjon continued to raise and train sled dogs. And he fished. But I don’t think he did a lot of fishing with everything else he had going on. Using his dog teams he would transport other fishermen, prospectors, and fur traders all over the Interlake and beyond, even taking a prospector to Norway House. 

I have not been able to find out how Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer found out about my old Avi’s ability to train sled dogs, but obviously he did. Because in 1914 Sigurjon, JB Johnson and Jack Castleman transported 100 dogs in individual crates on 3 cattle cars to Montreal, Quebec. Three days later they put the dogs on the ship Montcalm and 16 days later delivered them to Shackleton in London, England. After 10 days of luxurious living, paid for by Shackleton, and with Germany invading Belgium, they thought it best to head home. Before they left Shackleton asked Sigurjon to accompany him to the South Pole to handle the dogs. Sigurjon wired home to Maria for her thoughts. She wired back, “Come home!” The three men received engraved pocket watches and expensive razors from Shackleton before they left Britain. They returned on the Empress of Britain. It took 6 days. Old Avi said that the Montcalm had nicer staterooms than the Empress. 

Shackleton’s intent was to walk across the South Pole, ‘Antartica’. He knew he couldn’t carry all his supplies from start to finish. So his plan was to take his ship Endurance and 70 dogs to one side and another ship, the Aurora with 30 dogs would be on the other side. A crew ventured inland and set up cashes for him to find and use to complete the crossing. Unfortunately Shackleton and his men never made it on to Antartica. Endurance got trapped in ice. After 15 months with the crew of 27 men hoping for the ice to break apart the boat broke apart and sank. Now the crew and dogs were on the ice flow with a couple of 22 foot life boats. Unfortunately all the dogs perished. There was not enough food for both men and dogs. The men were able to use the lifeboat to get to Elephant Island. Then Shackleton and 5 men sailed one of the lifeboats 800 miles to South Georgia Island where there was a Norwegian whaling station. The station sent out a ship to Elephant Island to pick up all the rest of Shackleton’s crew. The 30 dogs from the Aurora were dispersed, some in New Zealand, some in England. Three dogs ended up at London Zoo.

Sigurjon and his son John also supplied dogs for Admiral Richard Byrd’s 1933 Antarctic expedition. How many of the 150 dogs that Byrd took with him came from Sigurjon I don’t know. But Sigurjon had an in. Allen Innes-Taylor, a pilot and the chief of operations for the Antarctic expedition was the older brother of Ian Innes-Taylor who was married to Aurora, Sigurjon’s daughter. 

Sigurjon was always doing something with his dogs. I’m not sure of the year but Sigurjon, Captain Baldi Anderson and Gudjon Arnason took teams of dogs to Chicago, Illinois for use in the filming of a movie called “The Golden Goose Chase”. The film was about a young girl in the Yukon during the Gold Rush. How they made Chicago look like the Yukon? Movie magic. Sigurjon and his son Steve would also take teams to Winnipeg during February bonspiels to give rides on the Red River for 25 cents. He would also go to The Pas, Manitoba to compete in the Trapper Festival. 

When I was a young kid visiting Avi and Amma, Sigurjon “Old Avi” was there living with them. He was in his 80’s and though he was going blind he moved about with stature. He was a big man. For about the last 10 years of his life he lived with his daughter Emily in Edmonton, Alberta. He died in 1973, 99 years old. Also when I was a youngster there were still sled dogs at the homestead. My mom’s brothers, Bobbie and Allen, would harness the dogs and take us kids for sleigh rides up and down Colonization Road and out onto the lake. 

The last husky, whose name was Glommer, was huge and passed away when I was 12. And so ended the relationship of Isfelds and huskies.

Submitted by L. Frantz, Howard Ave, South Beach


For more on this see http://southbeachgimli.org/south-beacher-supplies-sled-dogs-for-famous-1914-antarctic-exploration/

 

More Photos

 

South Beach Tribute – Doug Hicks

Douglas Arnold  Hicks

March 18, 1925 – June 12, 2019

It is with sadness, yet thanksgiving that we announce after a long and eventful life, Douglas passed peacefully on June 12, 2019.

Doug was born in Shellbrook, Saskatchewan on March 18, 1925. On November 9, 1948 in Codette, SK. Dad married the love of his life Margaret Cockriell. As a young couple they travelled to Winnipeg for their honeymoon and decided Winnipeg was going to be their new home.

Doug joined the Winnipeg Police Department in January, 1949 and never looked back. He enjoyed each and every day of his 38 year career. Upon his retirement in March, 1985 he held the position of Inspector of Traffic.

Doug was a member of the Winnipeg Police Revolver Club as a Combat Shooter. The Club travelled on many competitive shoots throughout Canada and the States. He was very proud of ALL his trophies.

‘Ravendale’, 16 Benedict Ave

In 1958 Doug and Marg built the family cottage ‘Ravendale’ in South Beach, Gimli and continued enjoying going each and every weekend, during the beach season, to their “piece of heaven”. They made many lifelong friends in South Beach.

Doug and Marg also enjoyed many wonderful winter holidays in Florida. For the past couple of years the Hicks have been residents of Devonshire House II.

The family would like to thank the staff at Seven Oaks Hospital for the care and comfort provided in his final days.

Hicks Family in 2011 (Marg, Corinne, Heather, Lorraine, Doug)

Those left to remember his quiet love of family is his devoted wife of 70 years Margaret, his daughters Corinne Larsen, Lorraine (Craig) Walton, Heather (John) Titley, Grandsons Leif (Jennefer) Larsen, Aaron Larsen, Reid (Jill) Walton, Neil (Nicole) Walton, Brad (Pam) Titley, Scott (Brooke) Titley and seven Great-grand children.  Doug was predeceased by his brother Vernon Hicks (SK) and his sister Audrey Warkentin (BC).

In accordance with Doug’s wishes, cremation has taken place and a private family gathering will be held.

Should friends so desire, donations may be made in Doug’s memory to the Transcona Memorial United Church – Building Fund 209 Yale Avenue West, Winnipeg, Manitoba R2C 1T9.