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Home » Lakes of the Atlas » Peace and Athabasca Region » Athabasca River Basin » Lesser Slave Lake

Lesser Slave Lake

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

1. Introduction

Map Sheets:83N, 83O
Location:Tp73-75 R5-14 W5
Lat/Long:55°27'N 115°26'W

Lesser Slave Lake is one of Alberta's largest water bodies. It played an important role in the colourful history of the fur trade during the nineteenth century, and at present, it is the site of several excellent recreational facilities and one of Alberta's largest commercial fisheries. The lake is situated in very diverse countryside in Improvement District No. 17, about 300 km northwest of the city of Edmonton. Highway 2 from Edmonton runs along the southern shore and Highway 88 (formerly Highway 67) skirts the eastern shore (Fig. 1). The drive along the southern shore from east to west is spectacular, as one passes through dense woodland and rolling hills, then flat, open prairie. The towns of High Prairie and Slave Lake are the major urban centres in the area.

The original inhabitants of the Lesser Slave Lake area were either Slave or Beaver Indians. In the mid-1700s, they were displaced by Cree Indians as the Cree moved farther west in search of new sources of fur. The Cree brought with them European weapons and tools, as well as canoes, which were new to western Indians (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.). The Cree were the first people to use the lake as a transportation corridor.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie learned of Lesser Slave Lake in 1793. He recorded its existence in his journals, but never visited it. In 1799, David Thompson of the North West Company became the first white man to arrive on the shore of the lake (Lombard North Plan. Ltd. 1972). Thompson was responsible for construction of the first trading post in the area, at the junction of the Lesser Slave and Athabasca rivers. By 1802, this post had been relocated to the land that was occupied by the townsite of Slave Lake until 1935, after which the townsite was moved to its present location. The Hudson's Bay Company set up a post nearby in 1815 (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.) and both companies also established forts on Buffalo Bay at the present townsite of Grouard. The Lesser Slave Lake area was the scene of violent conflict between these rival companies prior to their merger in 1821. Both attempted to gain sole control of the lucrative fur supply, which was considered to be the richest in the whole of Rupert's Land (Lombard North Plan. Ltd. 1972). After the fur resources were depleted, Lesser Slave Lake remained important as a way station for traders and furs travelling to and from the northwest.

A new era began in the early 1900s with the formation of the Northern Transportation Company, which ran steamboats across the lake and provided easy access to the Peace Country. The steamboat Northern Light provided service from 1909 to 1915. When the railroad arrived in 1915, steamboats became obsolete. The Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway Company built a line north from Edmonton, west along the southern shore of Lesser Slave Lake, and then west to the Peace Country (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.).

At present, there are five Indian reserves on the southern and eastern shores of the lake, and on the outlet, the Lesser Slave River. They are, from west to east, the Sucker Creek (150A), Driftpile (150), Swan River (150E), Assineau River (150F) and Sawridge (150G, 150H) reserves (Fig. 1). When Treaty No. 8 was signed in 1899, the five Cree bands that resided around the lake were regarded as one entity and the land was administered jointly. Thirty years later, each band became a separate body with its own chief and council. In 1984, the total membership of the five bands was 1,743 people, and the reserves covered a total area of 18,800 ha (Alta. Native Aff. 1986). Near the hamlet of Grouard on Buffalo Bay, members of the Grouard Indian Band live on three reserves: Freeman (150B), Halcro (150C) and Pakashan (150D). About 87 people resided on the 444-ha reserves in 1981.

There are four hamlets, one village and one town on or near Lesser Slave Lake and adjoining Buffalo Bay: the town of Slave Lake, the village of Kinuso and the hamlets of Grouard, Joussard, Faust and the hamlet of Canyon Creek, Widewater-Wagner (Fig. 1). Slave Lake was originally named Sawridge and was located downstream along the Lesser Slave River. In 1935, the town moved to its present location because of flooding, and in 1938, the town was renamed Slave Lake (Allen 1989). In 1988, its population was 5,611 people. Kinuso was originally called Swan River, but was renamed Kinuso, which is Cree for fish. In 1981, the population of Kinuso was 282 people (Alta. Native Aff. 1986). The Grouard area was a centre for fur trading during the early nineteenth century. The hamlet was given its present name in 1909, when Lesser Slave Lake Settlement was renamed for Monsignor Grouard, the resident priest. The population of Grouard in 1987 was 545 people. Joussard was originally called Indianna, but was renamed for Bishop Joussard. Historically, the hamlet was an important centre for traders, explorers and settlers, a gathering place for Indians and Metis and the site of a Roman Catholic Mission. In 1987, the population of Joussard was 330 people. Faust was once an important centre for the fishing and trapping industry. The main water and land routes for explorers, traders and settlers were located near the hamlet. In 1987, the population of Faust was 399 people. Canyon Creek, Widewater-Wagner is a single hamlet that had a population of 422 people in 1986. Canyon Creek was established in the 1930s as a major mink ranching area, and commercial fishing to supply mink food soon became an important industry. A fish hatchery operated in the community between 1928 and 1944 (Stenton 1989). It raised lake whitefish, which were stocked in lakes throughout the province.

There are two provincial parks on Lesser Slave Lake (Fig. 2). Both parks provide day-use services year-round and camping services from 1 May to Thanksgiving Day. Hilliard's Bay Provincial Park is located on the northwest shore, 13 km east of Grouard. It has 189 campsites, three group camping areas, sewage disposal facilities, tap water, playgrounds, interpretive programs, a boat launch, a beach and picnic facilities. Swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and cross-country skiing are some of the activities enjoyed at the park. Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park is located on the northeast shore, 3 km north of the town of Slave Lake, off Highway 88. It has 113 campsites, two group camping areas, sewage disposal facilities, a playground, picnic facilities, a golf course, hiking trails, 5.5 km of sandy beaches and extensive sand dunes. During winter, cross-country skiing on groomed trails and snowshoeing are popular activities. There is no boat launch within the park, but two launches are available just south of the park at an Alberta Environment day-use area at the weir on the Lesser Slave River. Another launch is available in Canyon Creek on the south shore (Fig. 2).

There are several other recreational facilities on or near the lake. Spruce Point Park is administered by the Spruce Point Park Association. It is located on the south side of the lake about 2 km west and 9 km north of Kinuso (Fig. 2). The park is open from May to September, and offers 126 campsites, group camping, pump water, sewage disposal facilities, groceries, a beach, a playground and a boat launch. Swimming, boating, fishing and hiking are popular pastimes there. Assineau River Provincial Recreation Area is located east of Kinuso on Highway 2 where the highway crosses the Assineau River. It is open from the Victoria Day week to Thanksgiving Day, and has 21 campsites, pump water and picnic facilities. Lakeshore Campground is located within the hamlet of Joussard. It is administered by the Joussard Area Development Association, and began operations in 1989. The campground is open from the Victoria Day weekend until the end of September, and offers 16 campsites, flush toilets, tap water, sewage disposal facilities, a boat launch, a sand beach, and a day-use area with picnic tables, a shelter and a playground. As well, there is a commercially operated recreational facility at Shaw Point near Hilliard's Bay Provincial Park.

Police Point Natural Area is located off Secondary Road 750 on the eastern shore of Buffalo Bay (Fig. 1). It was established by Order in Council in 1987. The area is historically important because it contains a section of the Grouard Trail, a major route for traders, missionaries and settlers travelling to the Peace Country. Vegetation in the natural area ranges from extensive wetlands to mature white spruce and trembling aspen forest. The land is rich with wildlife, and there are excellent opportunities for nature observations, birdwatching and outdoor education. The trails that wind through the natural area can be used for hiking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. There are no facilities on site (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.[b]).

Lesser Slave Lake is managed for sport, commercial and domestic fisheries. The sport fishery for walleye and northern pike became increasingly popular during the 1980s. The popular Golden Pike Fishing Derby has been held each summer since the early 1980s from the town of Slave Lake. Sport fishing is somewhat limited by the large size of the lake and severe wave action, which frequently makes the use of small boats dangerous. Buffalo Bay, Grouard Channel and the portion of Lesser Slave Lake within 4 km of the mouth of the channel are closed to fishing during a specified period in April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas such as designated swimming areas, all vessels are prohibited. In other posted areas, power boats are restricted to maximum speeds of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Moderate blooms of blue-green algae turn the lake water green during late summer. The extent of aquatic vegetation is limited by heavy wave action, except in Buffalo Bay, where there are extensive weed beds. The lake's western basin is shallow and well mixed by wind during the ice-free season, whereas the eastern basin is deeper and does not mix to the bottom. The water in both basins contains sufficient amounts of dissolved oxygen year-round to support the fish population.

Physical Information
Area (km2)1,160
Max. Depth (m)20.5
Mean Depth (m)11.4
Dr. Basin Area (km2)12,400
Dam, WeirWeir
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)No Data
CHLORO x (µg/L)No Data
TDS x (mg/L)111

2.Drainage Basin Characteristics »

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