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Home » Lakes of the Atlas » Peace and Athabasca Region » Athabasca River Basin » Lac La Biche

Lac La Biche

    2.Drainage Basin Characteristics
    3.Lake Basin Characteristics
    4.Water Quality
    5.Biological Characteristics

1. Introduction

Map Sheets:73L/13, 83I/16
Location:Tp66-69 R12-16 W4
Lat/Long:54°52'N 112°05'W

Lac La Biche is a large, scenic lake that is valued for its excellent beaches and well-forested parks and shoreland areas. The lake is located about 220 km northeast of the city of Edmonton in Improvement District No. 18 (South). The closest urban centres are the town of Lac La Biche on the southeast shore and the village of Plamondon, 3 km west of the lake (Fig. 1). To reach the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 28 north to Highway 63. Drive north past the village of Boyle to the junction of Highway 63 with Highway 55, then drive north and east on Highway 55 to the town of Lac La Biche. Secondary Road 868 from Lac La Biche circles the east and northeast sides of the lake and Secondary Road 858 from Plamondon runs along the west and northwest sides of the lake. A local road skirts much of the south shore (Fig. 1).

The Cree name for the lake was Waskesiu Sakhahegan, which means Elk Lake. The word biche is French for "hind", specifically, the female of the European red deer. French Canadians applied the word to North American elk and brought the term west on their travels. The English translation of Lac La Biche - Red Deer Lake - first appeared on the Mackenzie map of 1793 (Chipeniuk 1975; Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]).

The first recorded voyage into the area was made in 1798 by David Thompson of the North West Company. He established a trading post, Buckingham House, on the southeast shore of the lake (Chipeniuk 1975; McMillan 1977). In 1799, Peter Fidler of the rival Hudson's Bay Company arrived on the south shore of the lake and also established a trading post. This post, Greenwich House, operated until 1821, when the two companies amalgamated. In 1853, the Hudson's Bay Company opened a new trading post at the present townsite of Lac La Biche (Chipeniuk 1975).

The first settlers to arrive in the area were the Oblate Fathers in 1855 (Chipeniuk 1975). They established a mission and farm at Mission Bay, on the south-central shore of the lake. In 1915, the Alberta Great Waterways Railway was built along the eastern shore (Finlay and Finlay 1987). Later that year, the townsite of Lac La Biche was surveyed on land alongside the newly opened railroad. Lac La Biche became a hamlet in 1919, a village in 1922, and a town in 1951 (Chipeniuk 1975). In 1987, the town's population was 2 553 people. Commercial fishing became important with the coming of the railway, and from the 1930s until the late 1940s, mink ranching was a significant industry. The commercial fishery for cisco supported the mink industry until the cisco population collapsed during the 1947/48 fishing season. Subsequently, many mink ranches closed. In 1981, only four ranches were operating (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]).

In 1925, all of the islands in the lake were established as a bird sanctuary, and in 1952, the largest island became Big Island Provincial Park (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.[b]) (Fig. 2). In 1965, the park was renamed Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, for the British prime minister. In 1968, a 2.5-km-long causeway was built between Big Island, Long Island and the mainland to provide better access to the park. At present, the park provides day-use services year-round and camping services from 1 May to Thanksgiving Day. There are 90 campsites, tap water, outdoor showers, beaches and swimming areas, a change house, a boat launch, playgrounds, viewpoints and a picnic area with a picnic shelter. In 1988, a major upgrading and construction project for park facilities was completed. Except for Big Island, all of the islands in Lac La Biche are reserved for recreation by Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife. Since 1984, they have also held the status of protective notation, which means that their potential as a natural area has been recognized but a natural area has not been established (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1987).

Plamondon Beach Provincial Recreation Area is located at the west end of the lake (Fig. 2). It is operated by Alberta Recreation and Parks, and is open from Victoria Day to Labour Day. There are 69 campsites, pump water, a beach, a boat launch, picnic tables and a picnic shelter. Within the town of Lac La Biche, there is a public park along the waterfront, a federal wharf and boat launch, and a town dock. There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas such as designated swimming areas, all boats are prohibited. In other posted areas, power boats are restricted to speeds of 12 km/hour or less (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

In a 1976 survey of cottage owners at Lac La Biche, it was noted that many cottagers valued the natural beauty of the lake, good fishing, good water quality, and abundant wildlife (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1971). More than three-quarters of the respondents, however, felt that there were problems with the lake for recreational use. Problems included algal density, aquatic macrophyte growth, fluctuating water levels, and water too rough for boating. The two most important summer recreational activities enjoyed by cottagers were swimming and fishing. Sightseeing, power boating, water skiing, picnicking, canoeing, camping, hiking and photography were also important, and nature study, sailing and golfing were of minor importance. During winter, more of the surveyed cottage owners went ice fishing and snowmobiling than they did cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Lac La Biche is very fertile. Blue-green algal blooms occur annually in midsummer but the intensity of the blooms varies from year to year. The amount of algae is usually higher in the east basin than in the west basin. Algae often drift in currents onto the provincial park causeway and into the bay on which the town of Lac La Biche is located. Sport fish in the lake include walleye, northern pike, lake whitefish and yellow perch. To protect spawning walleye, sport fishing regulations stipulate that the portion of Lac La Biche within 1 km of the mouth of the Owl River is closed to sport fishing for a period in April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). The lake also supports a commercial fishery for cisco, lake whitefish and northern pike, and a domestic fishery for lake whitefish.

Physical Information
Area (km2)234
Max. Depth (m)21.3
Mean Depth (m)8.4
Dr. Basin Area (km2)4,040
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinAthabasca River Basin

Recreational Information
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch

Water Quality Information
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x (µg/L)West: 117
East: 108
CHLORO x (µg/L)West: 23.4
East: 29.8
TDS x (mg/L)West: 162
East: 161

2.Drainage Basin Characteristics »

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