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Manitoba’s national park quiet in Fall

Local explorer and historian Ed James finds Manitoba's National Park to hold treasures.

Riding Mountain National Park opened on July 26, 1933, and is just under a two-hour drive from the town of Virden. Over the years, it has been a training camp, and an internment camp for conscientious objectors and German prisoners of war during WW2. However, for most of us, it is a magic forest land in the middle of the flat prairies.

There we find a clear cold lake, forest trails, big and small campsites and a main street full of seasonal shops and restaurants. All summer, Clear Lake (Wasagaming) has been a busy location, with its cool lake being very popular during summer’s heatwave.

All too soon the summer has passed us by and fall is in the air with its smells, colours and events. For the past few years a fellow photographer from Brandon and I have made an annual trip to the lake area to record the fall colours. It’s a time to enjoy the area as most of the summer crowd has gone home or are in the process of packing up the cabins and putting away the colorful canoes and kayaks.

During this year’s visit, the weather is warm with a hint of fall in the evenings as we sit by our campfire. We listen to rock and roll oldies and remember that a campfire was caveman TV. I'm sure we have all sat by a fire and just watched the flames in silence as our mind wanders or remembers.

As we walk the area the only sound is the crunching of leaves under our feet. In some spots, the flowers still are still blooming with the fallen leaves piled up their stems like a brown blanket. Just before dusk two kayaks slip quietly into the water for a final journey as the light on the breakwater shines in the twilight.

The village photo studio still has its colourful lights on and a display of umbrellas hanging from above as you walk along the narrow path to the back.

The ice cream parlor, near the main beach is still open for a few more days, but they are already out of the popular flavours. I wonder what happens to the rest of the ice cream over the winter.

On the road through the park and along the trails and paths the leaves are turning different colours, with bright yellows, mixed in among the dark, tall evergreens.

One evening we meet a newcomer to the area from Merritt, B.C. Tom is a retired carpenter who plans to start a new life and business near the lake, with his life-like chainsaw carvings of forest animals. We walk back to his trailer where he shows us some of his creations. He has hauled the display all the way from B.C. on the trailer, without losing any. The secret is, they are bolted to the deck of the trailer.

I take time to visit the newly restored park museum, with its displays of fur, fin, and feathers. The building now has a small lecture hall with a warm log cabin vibe. The building and contents are a perfect fit for the park.

On our last evening, we take one more walk along the breakwater and Main Street. It's very quiet and empty, yet beautiful in its emptiness. If fall be here, can winter and spring be far behind? I hope I can return to this special place. I know there are many other beautiful places in Canada, but this one has grown near to me over the years with the many adventures it has given me.