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Only in Canada: The Riviera meets the Huldufolk

I walk the length of the pier along which locals have painted crude depictions of Gimli's history, their answer to the Bayeux Tapestry: 19th-century farmers hauling ice blocks for the fisheries, Ukrainian settlers, the famous Gimli Glider incident.

Though I summered in Whiteshell Provincial Park as a kid, and still remain partial to its clear lakes dotted with little islands covered in trees, ad infinitum, I've become fond of Gimli, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. It's not just a flimsy summer resort but a real fishing community - one that supplies much of the world's fresh sweet pickerel.

To get there, I drive one hour north from Winnipeg, through a two dimensional prairie-scape; I know I've arrived when the smell of hops from the Seagram's distillery permeates the hot air. A town redolent of Crown Royal and Viking statues has got to intrigue.

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As does Gimli's connection to Iceland. Gimli was settled in 1875 by Icelandic immigrants who brought some of their country's otherworldliness to the new land, which they tried to make the independent Republic of New Iceland. Summertime adds another dimension to Gimli: Beach bums and babes in bikinis line up for ice cream at one of the fish and chip shops on the main strip. The mix is singular, sort of Riviera meets the Huldufolk. And ever more so during last week's Gimli Film Festival, when Manitoba filmmakers and shakers go from pitch sessions to schmooze fests via mopeds, and cottagers watch arty Norwegian films from the pews of an old Unitarian church and on the beach. In its 10 years, the festival has largely achieved its goal of being more than a quaint diversion. When it began, it celebrated the Canadian/Icelandic connection and still does Tales from the Gimli Hospital.

On Saturday, I wake to what looks like a relentless sun and walk to the Reykjavik Bakery, newly opened by Steinthor Jonasson, a cash and ash émigré, from whom I learn cake is an Icelandic word. Icelandic films, though, are in short supply this year. The masterful Swedish film Everlasting Moments is starting in a few minutes.

But there are also friends who lure you from your cultural horizon broadening. Ken and Mira are in the harbour. They've got a Sea-Doo. With a wakeboard. Climbing aboard, I think there'll be other Gothic films about turn-of-the-century Manitoba.

When the sun sets, it's time for the late-night beachfront screening of An Education. I've already seen the film, but not outdoors, on a star-filled night, on an 11-metre screen that rises from the lake like a celluloid homage to Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

Viewers stake a place on the shore's edge and build sand pillows for their heads. We'll do it again the next night for a screening of Neil Young Trunk Show. For a while, the sound of

clapping mingles with the sound of slapping - the mosquitoes, alas, are as biblical as Manitoba myth dictates. Then a breeze comes up from the lake and shoos them away, and all that's left is Neil, the night and a lone sailboat navigating by a moon one night short of full.

Young's songs never seems to finish. Just when you think he's reaching the end, he goes on a little longer. Wish that were true of summer, too.

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