Onanole Cultural Hotbed of Things To Do Dec. 6 – 8, 2013

Onanole, Manitoba is the southern gateway to Riding Mountain National Park. It is becoming a cultural hotbed of artisans, restaurateurs, and innovative entrepreneurs who are creating new visitor experiences and services in four seasons. The national park ski trails are tracked and snowshoeing is already outstanding throughout the park. This weekend promises a lot of cool culture – A Christmas Show & Sale at Orion Studio  at 216 Orion Drive (please see poster attached for hours) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Saturday also features the annual Crawford Park Craft Sale just west of Onanole. Saturday, Dec. 7 is the annual Harvest Sun fund-raising Dinner & Concert, which will take place at the Onanole Community Centre. Advance tickets are required. Greg MacPherson & Leanne Zacharias will be performing. Harvest Sun Catering will be provide a “locally sourced” dinner. Finally, all of these activities will be anchored by some of the best cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Manitoba. Snow conditions are fantastic – with over 15cm of fresh snow in the Wasagaming area, and 20+cm at Moon Lake. Trails are packed and many track set. This is a snowshoeing paradise!

Harvest Sun annual dinner and concert

Annual fund raising dinner and concert for Harvest Sun Festival

Orion Studio annual Christmas Show & Sale, Onanole, Manitoba

Orion Studios annual show and sale featuring Sue Davar Pottery and fellow artist


Stars Stitched, Wolves Howled

Night sky viewing under full moon, riding mountain national park

When the full moon is up in February and you are out snowshoeing in Riding Mountain National Park, you do not need a headlamp or any kind of supplementary light. The blanket of snow acts as a big reflector illuminating your travel pathway. We had the opportunity to snowshoe under a full moon with a couple from Manitoba. With our head guide Buzz Crowston as our guide to the night sky using a special laser pointer, we headed to two off-trail locations. At the first one, as we shared stories of winter wolf ecology and behaviour, a pack of wolves (which the park has been monitoring) began howling. At the second location, we mused on the role of prescribed fire as we gazed on an eerie blackened landscape of spruce and jackpine spires thick like the back of an alarmed porcupine. The October prescribed burn in the Rolling River area quietly and expectantly waits for spring to release new growth into the landscape.

Our guests had a few things to share about this experience after they returned home…” Hi, we just came back from a walk this evening and the night sky is a brilliant as ever, the planets, the twins, the Big Dipper, the “M” for Michelle, we had to stop gazing and watch out for ice along our path. We just wanted to tell you again thank you so much for the evening, the pictures are great, and most of all the company and the stories was want made the evening a night to remember. Our family was very jeolous of the stories we came back with, especially our wolf loving son and story loving mom… Thanks again for sharing the evening with us, we have shared our story with so many people, we hope that one day, some may call you up for their own adventure.”

Crystals in the wind

I love snowshoeing. Because I can travel anywhere. I am not restricted to being in a ski track. I can follow wildlife tracks and trails. I can walk over frozen surfaces (with at least 6 – 8 inches of ice) to get to beaver ponds, and access places that would be much more difficult to get to in the summer and fall months.

Snowshoeing is easy to do. It offers good cardio-vascular activity, and it helps me to keep learning more about nature. Each time I go out snowshoeing, I am noticing and learning something new. Perhaps where a woodpecker has been active, or where wolves have made a kill of an elk, or where there is enough running water that has not frozen.

What I love most is the unexpected. Then, I really take notice. Like when the wind from a south breeze moves light crystals of snow on the frozen surface of a lake in Riding Mountain National Park. These crystals are moving along the ground in undulating waves. Take note of these golden waves of snow crystals behaving similar to northern lights, picking up the light intensity of the setting sun, moving in broad patterns with the wind, and moving in undulations that take your breath away. This is HD video. Make it full screen to get the full impact of it.

Being in the right place at the right time is an act of commitment. Going out daily to snowshoe is like a meditation. It helps me to be present.

Lost in the Wilderness!!!

Snowshoeing Moon Lake

Help!!!  We arrived in “total desolation” not knowing what to expect.  It was a “barren wasteland”.  The waiver we signed said “not responsible for death caused by wild animals and parasites”.  Oh-oh! They said this was going to be fun.  They said we were going to learn to partner, to build relationships, and to experience the “T” (tourism) word in a funky value-added format. This was going to be new, fun, interactive, exciting and ultimately beneficial to the bottom line. Ok…sure..whatever…  We had our doubts initially…but now we’re believers!!

The next day was looking up…a bit, at least.  Breakfast was great…generally a good sign, so all was not lost.  Our group was obviously in the same frame of mind.  They didn’t know what to expect either.  However, after a little tongue-wagging we soon learned that their trepidations and expectations were quite similar to our own.

Earth Rhythms was phenomenal!!  The experiential outings were enlightening.  We were drawn to the local customs and traditions.  We were absorbed in the uniqueness of a distinct culture and way of life, feeling as if we belonged to it ourselves and that it had always been our own.  That’s the power of experience and it’s something that everyone can benefit from.  We never dreamed we would dance a traditional Ukrainian jig that looked so amazing in its natural state…until it was utterly destroyed by a couple of rookie bluenosers.  Fortunately for us, we weren’t alone.  The others in our group were as equally “talented” and forgiving.  We felt much better!

It all boils down to this…no matter who you are, or where you go, everyone is the same.  We’re all interdependent and herein lies our strength as human beings.  Together, we can tap into a vast supply of resources that, with a little ingenuity, can benefit one and all.  Together, we can experience, learn, adapt, grow, and profit from each other’s experiences, perceptions and opinions.

We’ve learned to look in our own backyards for the plethora of valuable resources that go un-utilized every day.  These do exist and they’re there for the taking, but sometimes they aren’t revealed until another point of view is expressed.  The full value of those hidden treasures then manifest in a flash of insight, and the hidden economic potential that lies just under our noses is finally revealed.

Our backyards, like the Manitoba “wilderness” may at times seem barren, cold and forbidding, but they can also be warm and inviting.  A cozy bonfire, starting with a tiny glowing ember of warmth – friendship, camaraderie, revelation, and knowledge – eventually grows into a fiery, consuming blaze.  That’s the power of “experiencing” over “observing”.  That’s the power of networking, building solid relationships and lasting partnerships. That’s the power of Best Practices Missions in Manitoba.

Thank you Earth Rhythms!

Blog post by Gem Johnson & Dave Hovey,

Participants on the Nova Scotia Best Practices Mission to Manitoba, February 2010

First hoar frost of the season


Hoar Frost on Thistle, Riding Mountain National Park

Hoar Frost on Thistle with moon rise


We are always delighted with the onset of winter, a time of the year when we get the opportunity to experience some amazing effects of weather.  Hoar frost is one of those phenomena that makes winter on the prairies so magical.

There are several online sources that offer an explanation of Hoar Frost (or radiation frost).  Hoarfrost refers to white ice crystals, loosely deposited on exposed objects or the ground, that form on cold, clear nights when heat losses (infrared radiation) into the open skies cause objects to a temperature which is colder than the dewpoint of the air next to the surface. Frost is frozen water that has condensed from some of the water vapour contained in the air.

Hoarfrost in Riding Mountain National Park provides great photographic opportunities for hikers, snowshoers, or wildlife viewers.  It tastes wonderful on your tongue.  It brings to life the magic of nature.  What I love about this kind of natural phenomenon is that some of the best things in tourism are not “things”; they are discoveries of the ordinary in your backyard.  We take it for granted.  Our guests, however, are looking for just this kind of extra-ordinary discovery.

Hoar frost and rising moon, Riding Mountain National Park

Hoar frost and rising moon



I look forward to introducing our visitors over the next few months to more of the special ways to experience Riding Mountain – a season of hoarfrost, snowshoeing, night-sky “star stitching”, wolf howling, tracking animal “Stories in the Snow”, and many more snowy delights.


Debbie McKeown leaves with good memories of the park

We had a great time!  Debbie and Jack McKeown, on assignment for Travel Manitoba, were here to go snowshoeing.  We watched a Hawk Owl, trekked into old growth aspen mixed wood forests, over a beaver dam in search of a Hairy Woodpecker, and snowshoed some more.  They had an opportunity to experience the spa at Elkhorn Resort, and dine out at our local organic eatery Prairies Seasons Bakery and Café, and they even had the opportunity to connect with a couple of national park staff and learn about Riding Mountain National Park.   Enjoy the short video in which Debbie shares her discoveries about the park, and why snowshoeing is fast becoming one of the most popular adventure sports worldwide.

Snowshoeing is ticket to “stories in the snow”

Investigating elk killed by wolves as part of a snowshoe learning adventure

Investigating elk killed by wolves as part of a snowshoe learning adventure


What if we learned to read nature in a new way that is fun?  What if this activity has the benefit of dropping your cholesterol levels. is exciting for the whole darn family, or group of friends that you have decided to get away with for a few days.  Try snowshoeing – better still, try snowshoeing with a guide for a morning.  

Imagine this – you head out in the early morning, looking for wildlife – and the list begins with Black-billed magpies, common ravens, then a zinger!  A Northern Hawk Owl which dives down and captures a mouse.  Followed by discovery of elk or moose hairs from a kill by wolves, more ravens, blue jays, gray jays, black-capped chickadees, a white-breasted nuthatch and then some amazing behaviours of feeding bison.  And, perhaps, if you are lucky, you might find evidence of an elk recently killed by wolves.  This is what happened yesterday in and around Riding Mountain National Park.  We have a saying – Come quickly to slow down!  Snowshoeing provides a ticket to slowing down and enjoying the stories in the snow.

Debbie McKeown, an adventure travel writer is here, at the invitation of Travel Manitoba, to write a story about experiences by snowshoe in the Riding Mountain area with Earth Rhythms, a learning adventure company.  Hosted by Earth Rhythms and Elkhorn Resort and Riding Mountain National Park, they are combining a stay at the Elkhorn Resort & Solstice Spa with some of our special outdoor learning experiences.  They have dined on local foods, organically grown, and culturally presented by the Prairie Seasons Bakery, a new bakery and café in Onanole (high on our recommendation list as a great breakfast, lunch, or supper location).  You leave feeling that you have nourished your body with really good quality food.

Debbie and her husband-photographer Jack have been snowshoeing at night under an almost full moon with us, photographing wildlife,and then heading off-trail on a guided snowshoe trek into mixed aspen woodlands to a hide-away lake tracking various mammals along the way.   Riding Mountain National Park staffers Angela Spooner (Public Safety & Resource Conservation Specialist) and Patrick McDermott (Park Interpreter) have provided insights about park ecology, bison, wolves, and other national park winter facilities like the Yurt and outdoor ice skating pathway within the park.  Debbie is writing a feature story for Snowshoeing Magazine.  We are delighted that she is here!