by Don Himbeault
The history of the Victoria Beach Cabin goes back 97 years - just a few years after Nature Manitoba was formed (then called the Natural History Society of Manitoba). One of the first initiatives of the Natural History Society was to create a club house and collecting station. This would serve as a headquarters for surveying and scientific studies of natural history.
Above: View of Lake Winnpeg from Victoria Beach, 1969 (from NM archives)
The Victoria Beach area, a Boreal Forest Region rich in flora and fauna, offered unique opportunities for this purpose. Through negotiation with the local municipality, or more specifically the Victoria Beach Company Ltd., a parcel of land of approximately 10,000 square feet was donated to Nature Manitoba. On August 25, 1923, the Club House was formally opened, consisting of a one room wood frame structure of 24’ by 16’.
The original intention of the Club House was that it was only to be used for daily visitors, and not as overnight accommodations. Up until 1959 there was no road to the Victoria Beach area, so members would travel to the cabin by train. The first project based out of the Club House was to a major botanical study, which catalogued the large number of vegetation species in the area. This was soon followed by an ornithological survey of Elk Island, which lies north of Victoria Beach, and which at that time was considered “untouched by man’s devastating hands”.
Above: Some of the rich biodiversity on Elk Island, 1977 (from Nm archives)
Above: A young family on a Nature Manitoba trip to Elk Island, 1977 (from Nm archives)
These surveys continued for decades, and all sightings and observations of the natural history of the area were recorded in the Club House logbook. As early as the 1940s, Nature Manitoba members began to observe a marked decline of coniferous forest birds compared to the original censuses less than 20 years earlier. The cause was believed to be the development of summer resort activities and the cutting of timber in the area.
Above: Annual fungus field trip to VB cabin, 1967 (from NM archives)
Over the following decades both the physical and vocational aspects of Club House underwent transformations. The first physical upset was in 1956, when the cottage collapsed following a spring windstorm. The structure was re-raised and given new underpinnings and shingles. By the late 1950s the number of day visits was declining, so members were now allowed to stay overnight with a maximum limit of four days, mid week.
Above: Members pose in front of the cabin in the 1940s before it collapsed (from NM archives)
Above: Victoria Beach cabin after being re-raised, 1960s (from NM archives)
In 1971, after 15 years of discussions between those wanting the cabin to remain rustic and those who embraced progress, the cottage was wired for electricity to make it more comfortable and appealing. In the end it was generally agreed this was the right thing to do, and based on comments in the visitor log book, lighting the path to the outhouse was most appreciated.
Above: Renovations continued to make the cain more comfortable, 1970s/80s (from NM archives)
Also added through the course of time were a front gazebo and a side addition, which created two rooms for sleeping quarters that featured bunk beds. While perhaps the cabin would be considered comfortable for 4 to 6 people, the log book records groups of up to 16 people staying in the cabin. In the end, the Clubhouse had become a year-round affordable vacation cabin for members to gather and families to spend time together in a quiet and natural surrounding. Despite its rustic amenities relative to its neighbouring cottages, the cabin was well appreciated by its visitors.
Above: NM members learning from member, Ella Jack, 1974 (from NM archives)
Above: Traced handprints in the cabin guestbook documenting one family's visits over the years
Above: Group of NM members enjoying the sunshine outside the cabin, 1980s (from NM archives)
Above: Young member visits Victoria Beach, 1975 (from NM archives)
By 2011, the cottage had started showing its age. Most importantly, following an engineering inspection of the property, the foundation was deemed unsafe for human occupancy. The Board had to make the difficult decision to discontinue renting of the cabin. The cost of repairing the cabin was not seen as economically feasible, so the board was faced with two options: tear down the structure and building a new one, or divest itself of the property.
Ultimately, it was decided that operating a vacation property, which the cottage had become, was not part of the core purposes of the organization, and steps were initiated to sell the property. This plan was interrupted when it was discovered the title to the property had a caveat dating back to the original gifting of the property that would encumber its sale. After a lengthy legal process, the caveat was eventually removed, and the property was sold in the fall of 2015.
Above: 1999 entry from the Victoria Beach guestbook
Many of our members have very fond memories of our Victoria Beach cabin, and for many years it offered an opportunity to be immersed in Manitoba’s natural history. The running of the cabin, including the decades of maintenance it required, was done by dedicated volunteers. We would like to thank all those who made it possible for Nature Manitoba to provide this space to our members for 92 years!
Please enjoy the gallery below of photos of the flora, fauna and scenery of Victoria Beach taken in the 1960s & 1970s by former Nature Manitoba president, John Jack. Click on the image to view the full sized photos.