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Researchers searching for stories of those who died fishing on Lake Winnipeg

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Work is underway to create a memorial to those who have lost their lives on Lake Winnipeg over the last two centuries, and researchers need your help to pay proper tribute.

The New Iceland Heritage Museum will house the memorial at the Lake Winnipeg Visitor Centre. It is aimed at recognizing those who have died while working in the fishing industry, combing the large and sometimes volatile lake to make their living.

“It's the 11th largest lake in the world. It's enormous, and it can be really, really unpredictable. It can go from beautiful, glass-like water to a raging storm without really a whole lot of warning,” said Heather Hinam, owner of Second Nature Creative Interpretation, who is heading up research for the memorial.

Hinam said Indigenous people have been harvesting fish off Lake Winnipeg for many, many years. When Icelandic settlers came in the late 1800s, they wanted to continue fishing - a trade they knew well.

However, dropping a line on Lake Winnipeg proved a very different experience than on the ocean.

(Source: New Iceland Heritage Museum)

Hinam said in addition to learning how to catch pickerel and sauger during the freeze-up, folks also had to navigate the challenging geography. For its size, Lake Winnipeg is ‘remarkably shallow,’ with a host of topographical quirks in its two basins.

“There’s not enough depth of water to dampen the waves, and so when a storm comes in, it can create some really big rollers, and it can knock you right over very quickly.”

As a result, many have died on the lake. Hinam is still trying to piece together just how many, as there is no central registry for such deaths. She’s currently digging through archives and newspapers, but is hoping families or friends from deceased fisher folk will reach out with their stories.

“We'd really like to honour those people.”

Anyone who has a story of someone who lost their lives on the lake as part of the fishing industry is asked to contact researchers.

- With files from CTV's Rachel Lagacé

Boats are pictured docked at Gull Harbour Marina in Hecla, Man. (Source: New Iceland Heritage Museum)

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