Minnedosa is one of those pretty prairie towns that I thought I knew. Another historic Manitoba town rooted in railway and agriculture? Maybe. But it's nestled in a river valley on the doorsteps of the Manitoba escarpment, and because of this prime geography, it has an outdoorsy, lake-life vibe that's totally unique to southwest Manitoba.
Maybe it’s because of its flashy national park neighbour to the north that Minnedosa tends to get overlooked by travellers. Or maybe it’s because, as the locals joke, they prefer to keep it a secret. What I discovered on a recent winter getaway is a charming town where outdoor recreation abounds...just choose your own adventure.
Adventure #1: play olde tyme pond hockey
Skate the Lake might possibly be the most quintessentially Manitoban event ever. Not only does it involve our favourite past time, our famous winter and our penchant for the outdoors, it is also all about HEART.
This annual pond hockey tournament on Minnedosa Lake happens February long weekend, and since its inception in 2006, it has raised over $85K for community projects. Even more impressive is that it's coordinated entirely by local volunteers. From the 8+ well-groomed outdoor rinks to the massive master schedule that organizes dozens of teams of all ages, this large winter event hums along like a well-oiled machine.
Registered teams come to Minnedosa from all over – Portage La Prairie, Brandon, Neepawa – to play hockey the way it's intended to be played: outdoors, no contact and four-on-four (no goalies, just mini nets). Down at Minnedosa Beach, ironically named teams decked out in custom jerseys suit up in a heated canvas tent before stepping out on the pond for a 30-minute game. Tournament headquarters and post-game warm up is at the nearby indoor pavilion, which is where participants pack in shoulder to shoulder and bond over beers and homemade food for purchase. It's also where the coveted trophies are on display for the competitive spirits in the crowd. You truly haven't experienced hockey in Manitoba until you've played Skate the Lake!
Adventure #2: curl at a 'pond'spiel
If hockey isn't your sport, chances are curling is (if you're a true Manitoban). Rock the Lake is a sister event to Skate the Lake, which officially launched in 2018, bringing a new demographic to the event. This 'pond'spiel has one dedicated rink with two curling sheets, inviting double teams with no sweeping allowed. Naturally frozen lake ice can be unforgiving for the preciseness needed for curling, but the stunning scenery as you hurl a rock into the north wind can't be beat.
Adventure #3: enjoy a fam jam on the ski hill
Ski Valley may just be one of Manitoba's best kept winter recreation secrets. The tiny ski chalet, a five-minute drive out the back door of Minnedosa, is the perfect adventure for young ones trying to find their footing on skis or snowboards. The beautiful drive down the remote winding valley road sets the tone of discovery. The rental shop and chalet, in all its vintage glory, is charming. More importantly: the crowds are minimal, the staff is accommodating, and the nine slopes are super kid-friendly. Ski Valley is a must-do when in the area, or it's even an easy day-trip from Winnipeg.
Adventure #4: overnight in a castle
The perfect place to rest your head when visiting Minnedosa is Tilson Place B&B, affectionately called The Castle by the locals. The 5,000 sq. ft. mansion built in 1901 by town judge Robert Myers is the province's most booked B&B, and it's easy to see why. With nine rooms (five of which are rentable) and six baths, it has eye-catching Queen Anne Revival-style design features around every corner. Insider's tip: be sure to ask the owner about the underground tunnel that leads to the guest house.
Adventure #5: take in the views
Minnedosa is an outdoor recreation hot-spot thanks to its natural beauty set in the valley carved by the Little Saskatchewan River. Between games at Skate the Lake, we made time to explore the views of Minnedosa. Not too far down the lake from the hockey action, a hamlet of ice fishing shanties pop up. If you strike up a conversation, locals will eagerly invite you in to cast a line for northern pike. In winter, snowmobiles are an exciting way to tour the rolling terrain, and the local Valley Snow Hawks snowmobile club can offers in-depth trail information. Oxbow Trail, a walking/hiking path that winds visitors through River's Edge Park via downtown across a suspension bridge to Minnedosa Lake, is another way to appreciate the town's natural setting. The trail also takes visitors around the resident bison herd and over the dam spillway to Minnedosa Heritage Village. A stop at the town's lookout tower is a must for a birdseye view of the valley paradise.
Adventure #6: poke about town
Set aside time to wander main street and patronize local businesses. Cornerstone Grill buzzes with activity, the gathering place for locals to enjoy a surprisingly sophisticated menu of comfort foods. Inspire Studio is the community's hub for art and culture, showcasing the works of regional artists and offering workshops for all ages. The retro-cool Minnedosa Bowl is always a fun way to pass some time indoors with kids when the weather doesn't cooperate. Perhaps the most striking feature of Minnedosa is the large collection of stone buildings, which warrants a self-guided photo-walking tour if you're a fan of heritage architecture. A map of the buildings and their history can be found here.
If winter proves to be such a fun season in Minnedosa, I can't wait to return in the summer to experience this nature's playground in its full glory.