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Driving north of Watrous, Saskatchewan, along the shore of Little Manitou Lake, we do a double take. Piles of white fluff lining the beach certainly look like snow, but they can't be. It's a hot summer day in Canada.

Sign for Manitou Beach - The Carlsbad of Canada
Sign for Manitou Beach - The Carlsbad of Canada
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

When we stop the car to investigate, we learn that the mysterious white substance is salty foam, churned up by a breeze on Little Manitou Lake.

Mineral salts

We weren't the first people attracted by the mineral salts. Long before pioneers settled in Manitou Beach, early First Nations people called Little Manitou Lake "the place of healing waters."

Legends abound about medicine men taking their sick to Manitou Beach to be cured. Later, homesteaders made trips to Little Manitou Lake for treatments and barrels of mineral water to bring home.

During the 1920s and 30s, Manitou Beach flourished. Thousands of visitors flocked to the resort for its mineral swimming pools, massage rooms, medical clinics, dancehalls, brothels and bootleg whisky.

The therapeutic properties of Little Manitou Lake come from lake-bottom springs. With salinity almost as high as the Dead Sea and a mineral content similar to that of Carlsbad Spa (Karlovy Vary) in the Czech Republic, Little Manitou Lake was called the "Carlsbad of Canada."

Largest indoor mineral pool in Canada

Located halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, Little Manitou Lake is 19 kilometers long and nearly one kilometer wide. "No one has ever drowned in it, even though parts of it are nearly six meters deep," says an employee at Manitou Springs Resort & Mineral Spa, the largest indoor mineral pool in Canada.

The hot water spa can comfortably hold up to 450 people at one time. "We've had as many as 1,200 people in and out the mineral pools in a single day," he says. "Visitors come from as far away as Japan and Russia, but most are from Saskatchewan."

The construction of Manitou Springs Mineral Spa, in 1987, was responsible for a renaissance in Manitou Beach. The resort had been declining, as an increasingly affluent population traveled farther away for holidays. A major blow came in 1983, when the only remaining indoor swimming pool was lost to fire.

Manitou Springs Mineral Spa occupies the same site as the old pool. Pumps transfer filtered water from Little Manitou Lake to heaters, where it's warmed to between 36 and 38 degrees Celsius.

Healing waters

The 400,000-liter Manitou Springs pool has several sections. There's a shallow area for children, a large whirlpool, and other areas that go as deep as three meters, but even here, bathers bob like corks. (Water from Little Manitou Lake has a specific gravity of 1.06, compared to 1.0 for tap water.)

Many individuals come to Manitou Springs for its health benefits. People with arthritis and rheumatism find it especially helpful, because the heat and minerals help relieve their pain, while the buoyancy allows them to exercise their limbs easily.

We floated effortlessly in the bronze water, while gazing up at the cedar ceiling. (Filters installed after our visit now remove the brown tinge, leaving clear water.)

The sensation is one of weightlessness. And yes (We tried it!) you can indeed read a newspaper while floating, just like in the pictures you see of the Dead Sea.

Man reads newspaper while floating in Manitou Springs mineral pool.
Man reads newspaper while floating in Manitou Springs mineral pool.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Manitou Springs hotel

A visit to the Manitou Beach spa is also a social occasion. People relax and readily strike up conversations. We met a 79-year-old man who traveled to Manitou Beach to recuperate from a car accident. Another bather summarized the opinion of most of the visitors we met: "Manitou Springs Spa is very relaxing, and a good place to get away from it all. I wish I could come here more often."

There are hazards, however. Because the water is saltier than the ocean, keep it out of your eyes or it will sting and release a torrent of tears. And shower well afterward or you'll look like Frosty the Snowman from the mineral salts deposited on your skin.

Besides soaking in the mineral waters, you can work out in the fitness center and enjoy massages, facials, manicures, Manitou mud treatments and mineral salt exfoliations. Many visitors spend the night at the 102-room Manitou Springs Resort hotel.

Mineral bath salt

In the Manitou Springs Gift Shop, you'll find a large selection of bathing suits and Saskatchewan souvenirs. Saskatchewan handicrafts include traditional wheat weavings, woodcarvings and hand-sewn moccasins.

The most unusual souvenir brings back soothing memories of Manitou Beach: a small bag of Little Manitou Lake mineral salts (stocked only when weather conditions permit their collection). Just pour the salts into a bathtub filled with hot water, lie back, and relax in the healing waters.

Watrous Saskatchewan

In addition to eating at the Wellington Dining Room in Manitou Springs Resort, you can drive to Paul's Place, six kilometers away, in Watrous. You'd better be hungry though, because the portions are generous. Prices are reasonable, so the restaurant can be crowded.

Although Watrous SK has a population of less than 1,800, it attracts visitors with Danceland, a relic of the resort's glory days. Danceland has a unique floor, made of maple wood. More than 15 centimeters of braided horsehair, between the joists and floor boards, give it bounce, so it's difficult to miss a beat or be out of step. Built in 1928, it still has a 1930s dance palace feeling to it.

Driving directions to Manitou Springs

From Saskatoon, drive southeast on Hwy. 16 (the Yellowhead Route) and Hwy. 365 to Manitou Beach, just five minutes north of Watrous. From Regina, drive northwest on Hwy. 11, and then north on Hwy. 2 to Hwy. 365, which passes through Watrous and Manitou Beach.

You can drive to Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa in just over one hour from Saskatoon (115 km to Manitou Beach) and two hours from Regina and Moose Jaw (200 km to Manitou Beach). There's also a shuttle service from Saskatoon to Manitou Springs Resort & Mineral Spa.

Mineral spa opening hours

Manitou Springs Spa is open seven days a week, year-round, from 9 am to 10 pm. Phone 1-800-667-7672 to confirm hours and days closed for maintenance.

Visitors can buy adult and family swim passes for Manitou Springs by the day, month or year or as single or 10-swim passes.


Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa: www.manitousprings.ca

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.tourismsaskatchewan.com

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