David Janeson: The Maskwa Project and Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park

David Janeson lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with his wife, Lori Janeson. The couple spends a great deal of their time at their cabin about 100 kilometers north of the city, on Hecla Island in beautiful Lake Winnipeg. Since 2016, they’ve been co-owners of Gull Harbour Marina, a small resort and marina not far from their cabin.

Janeson embraces several charities and nonprofit initiatives in Winnipeg and rural Manitoba. He’s a kindred spirit of any project committed to the sustainability of human settlement in southern and central Manitoba, the stabilization and improvement of the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg and its tributaries, and the strengthening of the social fabric that binds together residents of this beautiful part of the world.

Janeson is particularly interested in three particular initiatives: Maskwa Retreat Centre (part of the ambitious Maskwa Project), Maskwa Scouting, and Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park.

What Is the Maskwa Project?

The Maskwa Project is the driving force behind one of the decade’s largest expansions of camping facilities around the southern portion of Lake Winnipeg.

A nonprofit founded in 1976 “to promote education and demonstration of energy conservation, environmental stewardship and appropriate technology,” the Maskwa Project has been on the forefront of sustainable recreation in Manitoba for more than 40 years.

The Maskwa Project’s rural campus—Wilderness Retreat Centre—sits on 53 acres of leased land near Pine Falls, Manitoba. Today, the project’s primary focus is to “provide conference and retreat centre services to small groups and organizations which share or appreciate Maskwa’s objectives.”

The Maskwa camp lies on a pristine 3-kilometer stretch of the Winnipeg River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg. The site sleeps nearly 40 visitors across three types of accommodations: a cottage with room for 12, two yurts with combined room for six, and a new group camping site with room for up to 20 camp sites.

David Janeson Supports Maskwa Project

The new group camping site isn’t the only new initiative happening. The Maskwa Project is undertaking a three-pronged, three-year plan to transform its rural outpost. It’s set to unfold between now and 2020.

The plan’s components include:

  • Renovating and refurbishing the facility’s accommodations and outbuildings. Specific projects include renovating the Hazel Henderson Cottage, rebuilding an outdoor kitchen and gazebo to LEED standards and building an environmentally friendly sauna, bathhouse and washroom facility.
  • Significantly expanding Maskwa camp’s recreation equipment, facilities and connections to surrounding wilderness areas. Specific projects include blazing new biking and Nordic skiing trails, increasing canoeing opportunities along the Maskwa River (including a connection to Maskwa Lake) and purchasing more canoes, kayaks and similar equipment.
  • Redoubling Maskwa’s commitment to appropriate technology and reducing its reliance on external infrastructure by increasing self-sufficiency. Specific projects include installing a solar energy system that’s completely off-grid, expanding waste management and nutrient cycling capabilities, and installing water treatment and management systems.

“A cutting-edge, appropriate technology facility in the Canadian Shield will draw people from across the country and the world to breathe in the wilderness air,” says Janeson.

David Janeson and Maskwa Scouting

Scouting has long been a mainstay for the Maskwa Project. The organization’s rural retreat has been popular with Scouts Canada groups from Winnipeg and beyond for years now, and the new group camping site is ideal for small and midsize cohorts. As a Scout leader, Janeson educates his fellow chaperones—and their young charges—about the endless opportunities to earn Scouts Canada awards in Manitoba’s beautiful backwoods.

The Maskwa Project’s 10-year Dream Plan puts youth front and center. It has always had an expansive focus, welcoming anyone who shares the organization’s vision, but the new plan sees Scouts Canada troops and other youth groups as “first among equals”—the linchpins of its effort to make the wilderness accessible to all.

The Maskwa Project’s sustainable technology showcase is a critical part of this 10-year plan. Once these elements are in place, visiting Scouts will see firsthand that it’s possible to live one’s green ideals without sacrificing comfort or convenience. Maskwa hopes they’ll internalize that experience, bring it back to the city and use it to guide their career goals and consumption choices for decades to come.

David Janeson Wants You To Visit Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park

Janeson is also a big proponent of Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park, one of Manitoba’s most popular outdoor destinations.

Located on two major islands and a slew of minor islands in the southern part of Lake Winnipeg, Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park stretches over more than 1,000 square kilometers of mostly uninhabited wilderness. On the southwestern end of Hecla Island, Grassy Narrows Marsh is a haven for waterfowl, migratory birds, fish and game (including the occasional moose). If you’re ever in the area, spend an afternoon hiking or mountain biking the extensive network of boardwalks and dryland trails.

Not far away is Hecla Village, a restored Nordic settlement from the early 20th century. It only takes an hour or so to complete the leisurely Hecla Village Scenic Drive, and it’ll change your cultural perspective on this rugged part of the world.

Autumn here means two things: brilliant colors and hunting season. Hunters need to follow posted warnings and observe bag limits, but the area around Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park is renowned for its bird and big game hunting. (Maskwa Retreat Centre, which isn’t in the park, is a popular jumping-off point for moose and bear hunters.)

David Janeson is an advocate for Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park’s efforts to conserve the wetlands and shore environments around Lake Winnipeg. The whole ecosystem is under threat from agricultural runoff, which promotes harmful algae blooms; invasive species, particularly zebra mussels, which wreak havoc on boats and other marine infrastructure; development, which threatens specific wetland areas and overall wetland health; and climate change, a diffuse threat that’s seen as a leading cause of wetland loss.

The park is working hard to restore and strengthen its wetlands. Grassy Narrows Marsh is ground zero for these efforts, which involve installing submerged platforms to support the growth of marine flora. Restoring wetlands to their former health is slow going, but visitors who return today after years away can’t fail to notice the progress.

David Janeson’s Vision for New Iceland

David Janeson’s time isn’t completely monopolized by these three projects. He devotes much of his energy to the renovation and refurbishment of Gull Harbour Marina. In the past year, he’s expanded the menu at the resort’s Harbour Dock Restaurant, added a 37-foot yacht available for dinner cruises, started offering inflatable Zodiac speedboat excursions around the lake, and upgraded most of the 13 guest rooms at the property.

More important for the region’s long-term viability as a cultural tourism destination, Janeson has worked to raise awareness of the unique cultural heritage area known as New Iceland — of which Hecla Island, Grindstone Black Island and the surrounding Interlake mainland are all part.

Through the first half of the 20th century, New Iceland was a semi-autonomous community of Icelandic Canadians whose descendants fled Iceland in the wake of successive natural disasters. Settled in 1875, the community almost perished amid harsh winter weather and a smallpox outbreak that decimated local First Nations populations. It’s a testament to the hardiness of the Icelandic people—and a prior program of smallpox vaccination, a decisive advantage the Cree Aboriginals weren’t fortunate enough to have—that the colony persisted at all.

Along with the pedigree of some 26,000 locals of Icelandic descent, the settlement at Hecla Village is the clearest remnant of Icelandic influence in this part of Canada. Janeson and his fellow New Iceland boosters are working to preserve, expand and create others.

The best-known expression of New Icelandic heritage is the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, held in Gimli each August. The event draws thousands of Canadians of Icelandic descent, and thousands more who can’t resist the prospect of seeing grown adults in Viking costumes, sampling Icelandic cuisine, watching authentic Icelandic music and dance performances and marveling at Gimli’s famed Viking Statue in newly christened Viking Park.

Not far away is the New Iceland Heritage Museum, a family-friendly museum that’s free to the public (though donations are of course welcome). It’s a fantastic place to take kids of all ages, especially during the summer, when weekly fishing and crafts demonstrations highlight nearly forgotten aspects of Icelandic culture and technology.

Once you’ve had your fill of New Iceland history and culture, retreat into the woods or out onto the lake. Most of New Iceland remains as it was before the first Icelandic settlers arrived: a peaceful, verdant, watery wilderness that supports a stunning array of plant and animal life. Thanks to the hard work of locals like David Janeson, odds are good that it’ll remain so for generations to come.

There’s a lot of amazing stuff happening in Janeson’s neck of the woods. Perhaps it’s time to take a trip out here and see it for yourself.