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Manitoba, a Distant Province of Canada, Boasts Exhilarating Wildlife and a Vibrant Culture.


Dawn has yet to break, but across the flat horizon a faint orange glow begins to dissipate the darkness that covers the still waters of Lake Egenolf.

In the fading darkness, a jetty slowly becomes visible, at the end of which stands a 1950s De Havilland Beaver, the legendary seaplane of the north of the country. It’s my first morning in subarctic Manitoba, one of Canada’s three vast prairie provinces.

As the sun rises over the pristine spruce forest of an island close to the coast, the staff and guests of Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge, my base for the next four days, begin their morning routine.

I’m just shy of the border between Manitoba and Nunavut, the fabled area north of 60 (the area of ​​Canada that lies north of a latitude of 60 degrees) and home to the Inuit people.

The current BBC series Race Across The World has sparked interest in Canada, but this fascinatingly remote part of the country seems to have missed the cut. Maybe just because it’s so far away. From the UK it is a flight to Toronto, Ontario, and connecting to Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. A night at ‘The Peg’ helps ease some travel fatigue before boarding a De Havilland Dash 8, Gangler’s Lodge’s private jet, at 5:30am for the final three hours to the far northern reaches of the county.

Light Fabulous: Doug McKinlay travels to Canada’s subarctic province of Manitoba, staying at Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge overlooking Egenolf Lake (pictured)

As cumbersome as it is to get here, this is a true outback adventure. Gangler’s is a five-star fly-in/fly-out facility; the nearest road is 180 miles to the south. The lodge’s ranches cover an immense expanse of nearly 19,000 square miles of pristine wilderness, a cobweb of 12 river systems and more than 100 lakes that flow into one of Canada’s largest rivers, the North Seal.

From its inception in 1985 by Chicago native fisherman and outfitter Ken Gangler and his father Wayne, Gangler’s Lodge has been dedicated to hosting trophy fishing and hunting trips for well-to-do travelers.

The sheer numbers of pike, arctic grayling and lake trout that attracted visitors made it (almost) like shooting fish in a barrel. But a few years ago things started to change. Ken looked at the future of the lodge from a different perspective.

He no longer hunts and sees Gangler’s transform into an ecotourism destination focused on educating visitors about wildlife and environmental sustainability and celebrating the local culture of the First Nations people, the Dene and the Cree, just two of the more than 650 recognized indigenous groups in Canada.

“This place is certainly a fisherman’s dream, but it’s more than that,” he says. ‘My goal in the coming years is to open up the lodge and its surroundings more to people who don’t hunt or fish, people who are really hungry for knowledge about northern Canada. It’s such a fantastic location and I want to show it to as many people as possible.’

While the caribou herds can rest easy, wildlife watching, mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing take center stage.

The lodge is a large log cabin construction with a high pitched roof. Inside there is a cozy bar next to a large fireplace style fireplace, with a pool table in one corner and shelves with board games and books. The center of the room is made up of couches and plush chairs, while large floor-to-ceiling windows allow the northern lights to stream in.

About 20 yards from the lodge, a well-used fire pit surrounded by sturdy Adirondack chairs is the perfect setting for campfire chats and Aurora Borealis spotting.

Gangler's Lodge is an ecotourism destination that focuses on educating visitors about nature and environmental sustainability

Gangler’s Lodge is an ecotourism destination that focuses on educating visitors about nature and environmental sustainability

Authentic: The central area of ​​Gangler's Lodge has large windows to 'let the northern lights stream in'

Authentic: The central area of ​​Gangler’s Lodge has large windows to ‘let the northern lights stream in’

Doug says Manitoba is

Doug says Manitoba is “cumbersome” to get to from the UK

I am joined by the Americans Mike Schibel and Christine Peterson. Like me, they have a real desire to dig deep into this environment. “Gangler’s is in the middle of this amazing natural resource: wildlife, northern lights, First Nations cultures and too many lakes to count,” says Christine.

“And the way Ken shifts his focus to customers who don’t like hunting and fishing is so prescient, it must be the way forward.”

After a quick coffee and pastry, we head to the jetty to meet Brian Kotak, Gangler’s resident biologist. He’s exactly what I expect from a wilderness biologist: thick-rimmed glasses, salt-and-pepper hair, a goofy sense of humor. He may not be able to jump tall buildings in one go, but his superpower is knowing all the flora and fauna in the region, as well as the geological and cultural history of the province.

Our aluminum-hulled boat skims across mirror-smooth Egenolf Lake to Robertson Esker, a long sand and gravel ridge that towers 140 meters above the surrounding land. It was formed during the last ice age by meltwater channels on and in glaciers when the ice retreated 8,000 years ago.

Relatively clear of trees and with a high windswept vantage point, Eskers have been important avenues for wildlife and the region’s First Nations for millennia. Fresh animal tracks embedded in the sand show how busy it can be on this tundra highway.

The great outdoors: Doug describes Manitoba as 'one of Canada's last great wildernesses'

The great outdoors: Doug describes Manitoba as ‘one of Canada’s last great wildernesses’

“Welcome to the Great Canadian Poo Tour,” Brian jokes, kicking over a week-old pile of wolf poop.

He stands at the top of Robertson Esker and holds court, bringing to life the geological history of these sandhills and the role they play in the peoples of the region, past and present. He can also pull off a very convincing moose call.

The greater topography beyond the Esker tapers into low undulating hills, covered with stands of stunted black spruce, fig and birch trees of the boreal forest. The ground is covered in a thick spongy blanket of yellow lichen, winter food for migrating herds of caribou.

Today's hikers can snack on blueberries, blueberries, cloudberries and raspberries, reveals Doug

Today’s hikers can snack on blueberries, blueberries, cloudberries and raspberries, reveals Doug

There is an abundance of blueberries, blueberries, cloudberries and raspberries – all snacks for passing ice or black bears, bison or even modern hikers. This is the land of the little sticks, a description by the Cree and Dene First Nations of the forests that are their ancestral home.

I didn’t come to fish, but it’s almost impossible to ignore. “There is an incredible population of pike in these lakes,” says Stephen Snipper, 79, an American guest at the lodge. “You could catch them forever with no meaningful skills or any impact on the numbers.”

Two members of our group are tasked with catching four pikes, which our Cree and Dene guides then use to make what is called a ‘wallunch’.

Doug says polar bears are part of the county's diverse wildlife

Doug says polar bears are part of the county’s diverse wildlife

Big Beasts: Black bears and bison roam the region, Doug reveals

Big Beasts: Black bears and bison roam the region, Doug reveals


Canada As You Like It offers packages to Gangler’s Sub-Arctic from £5,420 for five nights, including flights from the UK, one night at the Winnipeg Airport hotel, return flight to Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge, four nights at the lodge on a full board basis , four days of guided nature, history, wildlife, photography and northern lights tours (canadaasyoulikeit.com/ganglersnorthsealwildernesslodgeor email: sales@americaasyoulikeit.com).

Brothers Travis and Tyler Merasty, of the Cree Nation, start preparing the fish and potatoes, while Simon Antsanen, of the Dene, tends the fire and opens cans of baked beans cooked in the can over the open fire.

Sitting on a pristine sandy beach for miles, it’s one of those rare moments when everything comes together: good food, interesting company, beautiful light.

But my day isn’t over yet, we race back to the lodge as the afternoon creeps in. Nearby, at the side of the lodge’s 1,700m runway, is a small two-person cabin. A wolf and her cubs have been seen near the airstrip for the past few days and I want to try my luck in seeing her. I know it’s a good place; pressed into the sand next to the thin nylon structure are countless wolf tracks, some old and some new.

I barely have time to straighten my rickety stool before she comes sauntering down the runway. There are no cubs this time, but she is impressive, big and healthy, with a natural curiosity that compels her to stop for me. But it’s all over in a flash. She stops, she looks and then she’s gone.

As the sky fades into night and dinner is over, the fire pit is lit and we all wait to see if Mother Nature’s light show will appear. We wait and we wait. Slowly the group starts to thin out, first Christine goes, followed by Mike and then Ken; the day’s adventure takes its toll.

At 1 o’clock at night I’m on my own and the fire is as good as out. Then, very slowly, the sky reveals the Aurora. It dances across the horizon in curtains of green and red, reflecting on the flat waters of the lake. For more than an hour I am alone with the Northern Lights, a fantastic end to a fascinating experience in one of Canada’s last great wildernesses.

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