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Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan: A Little Cinderella Story

“The water. The minerals make it denser than the Dead Sea and that’s the draw card. If it were fresh water, we’d be like any other prairie lake where puddles jump,” smiles Eric Upshall, Manitou Village’s recently re-elected mayor. He puffs up a bit, “And now we have bragging rights.”

Meaning “god” in the Cree language, Manitou’s waters have long been known for their healing powers. Without a lifeguard in sight, it is literally impossible to sink. The waters are rumored to have cured everything from smallpox to acne to liver problems. And it’s the only lake in Canada where you can read a book while floating. If you don’t shower when you get out of the lake, the salt will dry out and your skin will look like it’s lightly dusted with flour, ready to fry.

some history

Manitou Beach rose to fame in the 1920s and 1930s. It had everything the then vacationing public dreamed of and co-starred in places like Banff and Jasper. At the height of its career, it featured three ballrooms, two indoor swimming pools, shops, hotels, ice cream parlors, and a YWCA. And to balance those images virgins, bootleggers and brothels.

Yet by the 1980s, the curtains were closing, and the beach was rivaling the geriatric stepmother: she was still breathing, but nearing her death rattle. A ‘beach cabin’ meant hauling up a barn, cutting out a few more windows, and setting up a latrine in the bush. The gravel pit, where teenagers congregated to drink beer, was the most popular destination on the beach.

What infrastructure? The bumpy roads were an obstacle course; the buildings were in various stages of rotation. No one was ever on the pebble beach. It was a stage swept by the wind. And you could hear the last breath cough coming from the wings. The Ugly Three Sisters – No Budget, Apathy, and Decay – had top billing. Vultures circled, waiting for the final curtain call.

Then, in October 1987, the Chalet Pool burned down.

And the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa, which over the years alternated the roles of fairy godmother and pumpkin, made its entrance.

Built on the ashes of the old swimming pool, the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa evolved into a year-round resort. The project started with a collaborative community effort: if you didn’t buy shares, you weren’t allowed in the coffee line, and a government grant. For the first few years, the dividends were free swimming vouchers, which most local shareholders didn’t bother to redeem. Dale Hayter, a local business operator who owned a large portion of the shares, bought out and took the operation private in 1998 and established it as a family business.

Although it has had its ins, outs and cast calls over the years, ‘the spa’, as the locals call it, holds its own. The salt, remember that it is denser than the Dead Sea, is corrosive and requires demanding maintenance. Think about what road salt does to cars and multiply by 25 to calculate the oxidation factor.

Twenty-five years later, Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa celebrated its anniversary in May 2012. Transformed into a full-time fairy godmother, it now employs 50 people. The hotel complex has 102 rooms. The complex also houses a poolside cafe, a gift shop and a massage service. And the view of the lake from Sam’s Steak House makes it a popular place to dine.

The town makes Cinderella

Like Cinderella rags on a ball gown, the barns disappeared in a puff of smoke. And instead there are no cabins, but houses, some of which are large enough to have a ballroom. The golden slipper was that in 2005 the town passed a law that stipulated that all properties had to be connected to running water and sewage. Although some of the residents acted like ugly sisters and tried to stuff their ideas into the shoe, the Cinderella factor persevered. Running water spelled the death knell for the honey wagon business, but it added to the beach’s attractiveness and property value. In 2005, a reverse osmosis water treatment plant came into operation. Like the transformation of the pumpkin into a stagecoach, the town became luxurious.

Cinderella turned out to be the girl next door and Manitou Beach has quite the “wholesome” air to it. Even predictable. So what kind of people go there? The two main categories are families and seniors. It’s the kind of place you can take your great-aunt Sue on vacation and know there won’t be any surprises. In fact, it’s so clean that you have to work to find a lot of trouble to get into. No smugglers, no brothels. Riding in the back seat of a car while watching a movie at the drive-in is about as risky as it gets.

Mike’s Beach Bar, with regular volleyball games on Thursday nights, is simply not a hangout. Claiming to be ‘world famous’ due to the loops of horsehair beneath the hardwood floor, Danceland attracts people who want to polka or square dance. Those sneaky, body-rubbing tango guys will have to go elsewhere. And really, does it get much more ‘respectable’ than dropping money in the honor box if you take a round at Murray’s Disc Golf?

With so many small Canadian spots disappearing off the map, it’s refreshing to know that some can, in fact, get a little cosmetic surgery and reclaim their place on stage. And Manitou Beach’s Cinderella transformation leads the pack.

  • admin

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