Under the Boardwalk

Author takes readers back to Winnipeg Beach’s heady heyday
by Carolin Vesely, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1901, the Canadian Pacific Railway purchased 330 acres of the west shore of Lake Winnipeg for $3,000 and announced it was building a resort area known as Winnipeg Beach.

It would prove “a splendid resort for the toilers of the capital, who are in badly need of a place within easy reach, where they can take a day’s outing and enjoy the health-giving breeze from Lake Winnipeg,” CPR vice-president William Whyte told an interviewer.

And it was. Within a few years, there were 13 trains running the line to and from Winnipeg Beach on busy weekends. There were the picnic trains for church and community groups, the Daddy’s Train for commuting businessmen, and the Moonlight Special for… well, let’s just say a healthy breeze wasn’t the only thing that drew 40,000 visitors a day to Winnipeg Beach during its peak in the 1920s.

According to the author of a new book that charts the rise and fall of Manitoba’s first beach resort, our “Coney Island of the West” was a “centre for courtship” that played a surprising role in a sexual revolution of sorts.

“The boardwalk’s bright lights provided a moral security to the area, but there was darkness in this summertime adventure, whether in the areas beyond the boardwalk, the inky darkness of the beach, or the darkness created when male passengers on the Moonlight train extinguished the lights,” Dale Barbour writes in Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967. He’ll launch the book Wednesday at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

The book project started out as an essay for an undergraduate history class, says Barbour, 40, who grew up in the Interlake but now lives in Toronto, where he’s completing a PhD in history.

When he started his research, Barbour wasn’t aware that the Winnipeg Beach of his childhood — with its eroded shoreline, boarded-up storefronts and peeling paint — was but a shadow of its once-grand former self.

“It was never a romantic place for me,” says Barbour. But the people he interviewed — folks whose ages ranged from late 60s to 90s — would beg to differ… Read the rest here