SPRUCE WOODS PROVINCIAL PARK — It’s quintessentially Canadian. Plunking a lure through a hole drilled through the lifeless frozen surface of a lake into the frigid waters where an intricate ecosystem hums along.
For Maryam Palanpurwala and her family, they have never been ice fishing before — there isn’t of much an opportunity in India, where they originally immigrated from 10 years ago.
Call it beginner’s luck, but after a healthy dose of much needed patience for the northern sport, Palanpurwala’a husband Shabbir Rangwala snagged himself a 60-centimetre northern pike from the depths of Marshs Lake in Spruce Woods Provincial Park. The park hosted a learn-to-ice-fish program on Saturday afternoon.
The family has never fished before, let alone been ice fishing.
"We just wanted to do something different," said Palanpurwala, bundled up complete with a "Canada" toque while sitting on a bucket holding a makeshift rod made of lumber. "I like to do different things."
More than a dozen Westman families sat on their own buckets under clear skies huddling over exposed water hoping for a bite of their own.
The Saturday workshop is part of a new initiative by the provincial park. In the last six weeks, a lot of promotion has gone into attracting residents to spend a weekend afternoon there, as a result of the work done by Jennifer Bryson, the park’s senior park interpreter.
"People can come out, learn all the things with ice fishing, everything from how to bait a hook, to how to drill a hole, to what you do when you catch a fish," she said.
It was also part of a provincewide winter family fishing weekend, when no licence was necessary anywhere except in national parks where a federal licence is still required.
Every Saturday, a different free program is put on by Spruce Woods, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and orienteering.
"It’s just to get people out here," Bryson said.
"It’s my job to let people know about this park, and its wonderful opportunities and teach them about the park, our history and the natural features … it’s a beautiful park."
The provincial park’s push for more feet on its trails roughly coincides with the federal government’s decision to cut winter service to national parks — including nearby Riding Mountain National Park.
While the national park is technically open, access points and trails are unplowed, visitor centres closed and emergency services are sparse.
In response to the sweeping cuts by the feds, a movement and petition was started under the banner Occupy Winter which hosted an event last month at RMNP.
Celes Davar, one of the organizers, told the Sun last month the petition had already garnered more than 600 names and was presented to Robert Sopuck, Conservative MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette.
"We aren’t happy with what has taken place," Davar told the Sun in January. "We expected more from (MP Sopuck) and we expected more from this government. And we want Parks Canada to listen to us and reverse this three-seasons designation at our national parks."
Meanwhile, Spruce Woods’ free programs continue every weekend. For more information, go to manitobaparks.ca.