A Popular Destination
Since the earliest days of settlement, the lakes of the Manitoba Interlake have been a draw – first for transportation, then for the fishing. Today, boats still ply the lake and the region still supports a fishing industry. But beginning in late Victorian times, people also came to value the lakes for their leisure activities. Lake Winnipeg in particular has several extensive white-sand beaches perfect for a lake-side holiday.
Beginning in the late 1800s, holiday-makers from Winnipeg discovered sun bathing and swimming in the lake. The railroad put in lines serving the communities along the lake. Winnipegers could take the train up to Winnipeg Beach or one of the other communities for the day, swim and lie on the beach, and still return to Winnipeg for bedtime. The area became a popular vacation destination.
Because of the popularity of visiting “The Lake”, resorts and summer camps sprang up along the shores. Different ethnic groups, such as the Ukrainians for instance, or different religious groups and churches established summer camps for their members. Some were dedicated to providing a summer camp experience for children from Winnipeg and the surrounding towns.
Camp Morton was one such holiday camp. Known for the striking appearance of its buildings, it was established in 1920 by Monsignor Morton and Archbishop A.A. Sinnott of the Winnipeg Diocese as a Catholic summer camp for disadvantaged children and families from Winnipeg and St. Benedict’s orphanage in Arborg.
One of the first buildings erected was the chapel, which became the focal point of camp life. Originally, it was simply an enclosure with an open ceiling. Later, it was extended and the walls were lined with fir boards. Eventually, they used stones from the beach to decorate the chapel façade in the Italian fashion. Today, the deconsecrated chapel serves as a picnic shelter.
Another important building was the water tower, which supplied water for the entire camp as well as for the extensive gardens that used to cover the grounds. Originally, the water tower was an open wooden structure that housed a large tank. Pumps in the tower drew water from the lake. A stone facing was added in 1937 and decorated with nickel discs depicting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Some of the pump mechanisms were housed in the Engine House, a matching structure located on the beach near the water tower. Storms on Lake Winnipeg have caused a great deal of damage to the structure and the beach has eroded considerably. Driftwood pummels the foundation and the decorative plasterwork is falling into ruin. Plus the Engine House has become a graffiti target.
Camp Morton ceased to operate in 1969 and was closed that year. The Province of Manitoba acquired the land in 1972. In 1974 Camp Morton and adjacent lands became a provincial park. Unfortunately, since then, some of the heritage sites buildings have been allowed to fall into ruin, such as this Grotto set into a hillside on the beach.
Today, the park consists of the camp, a formal garden and sundial on Mary Knoll, hiking trails, ski trails, and cabins and yurts for rent. Today, Camp Morton is a pleasant destination for either a week’s holiday, or an afternoon picnic by the lake.