Wooden Piers of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba

One of my favorite places to photograph is Lake Winnipeg.  It’s close proximity to where I live and shear size, provide endless opportunity for exploration.   It’s the world’s 11th largest freshwater lake, and at times you would swear you’re on the shores of one of the world’s great oceans.  Locals call it the ‘Inland Sea’.  Lake Winnipeg is historically significant to Manitoba, and remains intertwined with the lives of all Manitoban’s to this day.   It serves as a massive reservoir for the large hydroelectric dams in the north, functions as a major commercial fishery, and is lined with thousands of cottages and sandy beaches.   Along the western shore, are Matlock and Dunnottar; cottage towns that are known for the series of wooden piers that line the lake.

The piers are roughly assembled from local timbers.  At first glance you may think they’re scenic, but nothing particularly special about them.  But they are unique; in this part of the world, the lakes freeze solid.  So every freezup the piers are disassembled before  succumbing to the crushing ice.   From what I’ve been told a local craftsmen then uses the wood to make log furniture, and in the spring the whole process starts all over.  When I first learned this, it put a whole new perspective and appreciation on the piers.

It’s impossible to represent an entire province with one type of landscape, you could argue an image of the prairie is more suitable in describing the landscape of Manitoba.   But when I think of Manitoba, it’s images like these of Lake Winnipeg that I always think of.

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2 thoughts on “Wooden Piers of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba”

  1. I made the film Pole by Pole in the summer of 2009. It’s an amateur documentary about 20 minutes in length. Copies can be ordered online through my Etsy store http://www.etsy.com/listing/50226786/build-a-pier-dvd-pole-by-pole-poplar
    or locally purchased at Mermaid’s Kiss Gallery on Fourth St in Gimli.
    I have lived in Gimli, on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, every summer of my life. I became familiar with the poplar pole piers in the Ponemah area because we visited good family friends who had a cottage there. I have always admired them and my husband was curious as to how they were built. It wasn’t until the end of the summer of 2008 that someone said to us that because we would be coming in late May next summer we would have the opportunity to see the piers being constructed. Until then I had no idea that these piers were built every spring and taken down every fall! It had never been on my radar that the ice would destroy them. So in June of 2009 I took my camera out to film the crew for a few days so that I could get a time lapse view to satisfy my husband’s curiosity. Not setting out to make an actual documentary, I realized there was a story and a bigger picture. After spending a little time with the builders, especially the foreman, stories started coming out. Some I missed because I didn’t have the camera rolling. The guys seemed a little taken aback that I kept appearing. They got used to me hanging around and after many days, I had more than enough film to edit. I think they were genuinely surprised when I appeared a few weeks later, when they were repairing a pier taken out by a storm, and presented each of them with their own copy of what turned out to be Pole by Pole. The title comes directly from a quote by Don Skorupski, master pier builder and the ‘star’ of the film. I had a lot of fun doing this film and I am glad that I was able to document an historic part of this region for posterity.

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