Western wonders in Virden: art, history and the great outdoors in the Prairie Gateway region
April 12, 2023
There’s a gentle roll in the landscape that welcomes visitors to the western reaches of Manitoba.
It’s here that a proud heritage comes alive in bustling communities, sunset streaked fields and exhilarating events. Welcome to Virden and beyond!
It’s all about the art
Arts Mosaic Gallery and Mosaic Market are housed in the lovingly restored CPR Historic Centre. The building is a beauty on the outside and inside, there’s always something new from the monthly shows featuring area artists. Pick up a souvenir of your visit at the Mosaic Market that showcases the one-of-a-kind pieces from local makers. The celebration of art continues outdoors with a heart-lined fence, a kindness rock garden, and a flower adorned green goddess just waiting for a selfie.
Admire the architecture
Virden got its start in 1882 when the railway came to town. It was a bustling place as a centre of commerce with several industries including a flour mill and brickyard. Grand homes, churches and commercial buildings still stand proud, telling the stories of more than a century ago. A stroll through town reveals the H.C. Simpson House where the town’s prosperous horse seller lived, St. Mary’s Anglican Church with stained glass windows designed by artist Leo Mol and the stunning Aud Theatre, the oldest opera house in Western Canada, now lovingly restored and welcoming guests for a variety of events.
Start your Friday morning at the Virden Farmers’ Market with freshly washed beets, bunches of bright carrots and trays of home baked butter tarts abound. The event runs from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm throughout the summer, fully stocked with honey, jewellery, vintage books, charming wooden birdhouses and even fresh floral arrangements.
Continue your retail therapy downtown with stops at two of Manitoba’s finest for fashions. Shari Lyn Fashions has been a fixture in Virden, always offering chic styles. Stop in for a selection of must-have woven sun hats, elegant Joseph Ribkoff dresses and funky loungewear for both guys and gals. Down the street at Garb & Guise, the selection rivals big city shops with pieces that have plenty of personality. A hunter green trench coat, pleated high rise trousers or an extra fluffy fringed cardigan may catch your eye. The in-house branded line featuring the shop’s name is particularly appealing.
Satisfy that sweet tooth at The Sweet Spot Bakery where cupcakes are always on the menu. It won’t be an easy choice with flavours like funfetti and bubblegum. Of course you could always opt for a salted caramel cookie sandwich with Skor bits and buttercream filling. Or Drunk in the Kitchen brownies with pretzels, caramel, peanut butter and bourbon.
Quench your thirst at Ice Cream Island. Yes, this seasonal stand has fabulous ice cream treats but don’t miss the cold brewed Earl Grey iced tea, served to your liking as a float or mixed with lemonade. Let the wee ones take a ride on the coin operated mini merry go round or bucking bronco (which is more like a gentle donkey). There’s a full food menu here too with beef supplied by the family ranch.
A drive to Joe Dandy’s in Oak Lake is just enough time to build up an appetite. And you’ll need it because the Manitoba Burger is a behemoth. The drive-in’s signature bison burger features two patties piled high with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions and that irresistible Dandy sauce. Add a side of onion rings but don’t expect anything run-of-the-mill. These rings are a meal in themselves—thick and deliciously seasoned, breaded and fried to perfect crispiness.
Take it outside
Rent a kayak from StillWater Adventures in Virden and head out to secluded Salt Lake near Lenore for a paddle. For longer jaunts, a visit to Oak Lake Beach (just 28 km from Virden) ensures that you’ll see a stunning sunset too.
Stay in the Oak Lake area for some golf at the 18-hole Oak Island that snakes around wetlands then through stands of old oaks. Virden Wellview Golf Club was Manitoba’s first golf course and continues to present nine challenging holes for enthusiasts. The Elkhorn Golf & Country Club is just south of the town of Elkhorn, providing yet another option for duffers.
There are more than 80 vehicles on display in the Manitoba Antique Auto Museum in Elkhorn. It’s a must for car buffs to be sure, but it’s much more than that. Quirky memorabilia abounds, parked side-by-side with a horse-drawn hearse on skis and old timey rides dating back to the early 1900s.
The Virden Pioneer Home Museum has found a home in an 1888 Victorian beauty that sits in what was once the wealthiest neighbourhood in Virden. Each of the tiny rooms holds snapshots into the ways of life in the Canadian west. There’s a ladies’ chamber, dedicated sewing room, nursery, hard-working kitchen and a parlour—each outfitted with pieces of the past.
• Dave Rockola, inventor of the juke box
• Dr. Ballard, founder of Dr. Ballard Pet Foods
•Lila Acheson Wallace, cofounder of Reader’s Digest