That’s the song my mom used to sing to me when I was a kid as she pedaled me around the Dunnottar area on her old bike. It’s also the nostalgic phrase that springs forth in my mind every time I venture out to the Interlake. You see, I was a lake kid, and if you grew up in Manitoba, chances are you were a lake kid too. The only question is what type of lake kid were you. Did you go east, west or north? Were you a Riding Mountain rascal, a Whiteshell whippersnapper or a Grand Beach brat (haha, just jokes!). I myself was an Interlake kid. Sounds like the coolest one, doesn’t it? It was.

When you’re a lake kid you become devoted and territorial about your cottage country area. You believe wholeheartedly that it is absolutely positively the best place on earth. No question about it. And nobody better question it or put it down to your face. Like ever. That would be a “draw a line in the sand” kind of moment (pun intended). And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed this territorial behaviour never leaves you. I don’t even have a cabin anymore, but this is my lake life turf. So love it, or leave, please.

I relish everything about the Interlake. I love the long, magnificent piers and the small, quirky yard sale finds. I smile longingly at those decked-out bikes (handlebar streamers for the win!) and rickety swing sets (“let’s go higher!”). I get nostalgic for those languid days spent playing board games on a beach towel with my cousins or diving for the football in the lake. Oh, and those old cottages! Those gorgeous, eclectic abodes that were built so long ago, yet still seem to shine brighter than anything new. This place just exudes charm, relaxation and fun. It’s exactly how you wish summer to be.

A large part of the Interlake’s charm is of course the biggest thing around: Lake Winnipeg. She’s big, she’s bold, a little shallow, sometimes wavy–all while carrying a tremendous amount of other people’s water on her back. In fact, Lake Winnipeg’s watershed is the second largest in Canada with water from four provinces and four states draining into it. And over the last few decades, it has been put through the ringer with excess nutrients, climate change and exotic species. This body of water definitely needs a little TLC. Luckily, the good people of Dunnottar, Community Futures and East Interlake Conservation District have come to the rescue and developed Water Awareness Day, which brings together experts to discuss water quality issues and present ideas on how together we can turn the tide on Lake Winnipeg’s health.

Water Awareness Day is the reason why I’m visiting the village of Dunnottar on a sunny Saturday. Which, when you think of it, is the best way to enjoy a blasting hot summer day in Manitoba– by surrounding yourself in watery things! The day was overflowing with concerned citizens who want to do whatever they can to make sure the world’s 10th largest freshwater lake sticks around for a very long time. There were five fascinating presentations on topics ranging from the state of the lake to organic food to climate change. The day ended on a high-note with a passionate presentation about protecting our water by keynote speaker Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

Between and during presentations, there were plenty of activities happening outside at the Water Festival. Kids were everywhere getting their hands dirty (literally) learning ways to take care of the environment.

The curious and *mostly* cute creatures of Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre also joined in on the fun of Water Awareness Day. R2 the red-tailed hawk had the most fans, even with that intense stink-eye he was doling out. Other wildlife ambassadors included Luna the barn owl (so pretty!) and Bruce the western hognose snake. (That Bruce might look scary, but he was a total puppy dog.) Wildlife Haven also released a rehabilitated bird, which was then immediately chased off in the sky by two crazy sparrows diving at it. Oh, those sparrows, so temperamental!

Meeting these beauties really hit home how important it is to protect our fragile ecosystems so as to allow our wildlife species to continue to thrive.

The biggest surprise I took away from the event, was that Lake Winnipeg is not in as bad shape as people proclaim it to be. Dr. Karen Scott of the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium, relayed the message that it’s not all doom and gloom, but it is essential that we are aware of what’s happening to our lake and make concerted efforts to care for it. Karen told us how Lake Winnipeg is changing in response to multiple stressors, including excess phosphorous, climate change and exotic species.

“Lake Winnipeg is not dying. It’s changing.” Dr. Karen Scott from Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium

After listening to the presentations and checking out all the activities at Water Awareness Day, I was thirsting to get to the lake. I found myself shortly thereafter walking down one of those classic piers and grinning at the familiar sounds of the boards creaking under my feet. Add breathing in the fresh air and listening to the water lap against the shore and I was in total lake life heaven. ❤️

At the end of this particular pier, I struck up a conversation with a friendly woman sunbathing. We began talking about summers spent out at the cabin. Similar to myself, she’s been coming to this spot since she was young. She said this place was her happy place and that it always feels like home. No arguments here!

After relaxing on the pier, I needed my fill of Cottage Country Charm©. As I listened to the gravel crackling and crunching under my tires, I drove slowly down the narrow lanes in Matlock, Whytewold and Ponemah. Everything is how I always remember it: filled with lush colours and colourful characters.

I begin to spy on these characters who are making the most of their day by swinging on a been-there-forever swing set, toting an inflatable raft to the beach, or rummaging through the goods at a yard sale. I then turn my attention to those little cabins. My faves are always the ones that lean a little with age or burst through the foliage with their bold paint jobs. And you gotta love when someone uses a canoe for a flower garden. It’s definitely a step up from the bathtub gardens. (If you’ve been to this area, you know what I’m talking about.)

My last stop was at the Whytewold Emporium — one of the best kept secrets in the Interlake. It’s a cool place that is becoming famous for it’s wood-fired pizza and hand-crafted crepes. Throw in a garden centre and antique store and they have a little something for everyone. I was most intrigued to see what kind of antique gems they had; it was a lot more than expected. I especially drooled over the retro kitchen items and those old kerosene lanterns. I didn’t buy anything, but I will definitely be back. As I strolled out of the store, I thought it seemed appropriate that I ended my day in the Interlake with that same feeling of nostalgia that I started it with.

On the drive back to Winnipeg I had that tune in my head again. I guess it will always be there…

“Everywhere that I roam, over land or lake or foam, you can always hear me singing this song, show me the way to go home.”

I found it. It’s an hour north of Winnipeg, off HWY 9.