Located along the La Vérendrye Trail (PTH 12), Grand Beach ranks third among the top 10 North American beaches. The seventeenth century French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de la Vérendrye referred to the area as Grand Marais, meaning “Big Marsh.”
Grand Beach achieved worldwide fame in the twentieth century thanks to the Canadian National Railway. In 1916, the rail line laid a track from Winnipeg through Balsam Bay to Grand Beach, offering easy access to hundreds of visitors. They built a large Dance Pavilion along the shore ~ some say the building was the largest in the commonwealth.
Dancing went on every night with trains transporting people from Winnipeg to the resort. Round trip “Moonlight Specials” were offered for 50 cents. Admission to the Pavilion was free but in the Twenties “Jitney” (a nickel a dance) began and in the 1930s three dances could be had for a dime.
The Pavilion became the central meeting place for families, couples, and the resort community. One of the most well known picnics at Grand Beach was the Caterer’s Picnic. Winnipeg grocers would shut down all day Wednesday and as many as 10,000 people would flock to the beach in trains that left the city every half hour.
The beach landscape grew to include a long boardwalk with concession stands selling hotdogs, ginger beer, and bathing suits. An adult size carousel gave flights of imagination to all who dared to whirl in its endless circle.
On Labour Day 1950 the Dance Pavilion burned to the ground ending an exciting chapter of the community’s history. Road traffic also became the preferred mode of transportation, and in 1963 the rails were torn up.