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Home » Lakes of the Atlas » South Saskatchewan Region » Bow River Basin » Spray Lakes Reservoir

Spray Lakes Reservoir

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

1. Introduction

Map Sheets:82J/11, 13, 14, 82O/3
Location:Tp22, 23 R10 W5
Lat/Long:50°54'N 115°20'W

Spray Lakes Reservoir is a long, narrow impoundment in a mountain valley perched 400 m above the town of Canmore, which is approximately 100 km west of the city of Calgary on Highway 1. To reach the reservoir from Canmore, cross the bridge over the Bow River then follow the winding road past the Canmore Nordic Center. Continue up a long hill for a total of 20 km to the Three Sisters Dam and the north end of the reservoir (Fig. 1). An alternate route is to start at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in the Kananaskis Valley and take the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail for about 20 km to the southern portion of the reservoir. Spray Lakes Reservoir is located in Kananaskis Country (Improvement District No. 5), an area of mountains and foothills that has been the focus of recreational development since the 1970s.

The name of the reservoir is taken from two tiny lakes, Upper Spray and Lower Spray, which were originally in the valley where the reservoir now lies (Fig. 1, inset). These lakes were on a tributary of the Spray River; Upper Spray Lake drained via Buller Creek to Lower Spray Lake which drained by Woods Creek into the Spray River (Miller and Macdonald 1950). The name Buller Creek now refers to a different creek on the east side of the reservoir. Spray River was named for the spray from the Bow Falls in Banff, which drifts across the mouth of the Spray River where it joins the Bow River (Geog. Bd. Can. 1928).

The history of the Spray area tells of three dynamic and determined men who each etched a colourful chapter in the early days of Alberta. The first white man to visit the Spray Lakes area was James Sinclair. He left Fort Garry (now the city of Winnipeg) in 1841 with 23 families, including a 75-year-old woman, with an aim to settle in the Oregon Territory to reinforce the tenuous British claim to the area. After a brief stop at Fort Edmonton, he was guided by Maskepetoon, the chief of the Wetaskiwin Cree, via Lake Minnewanka to the present site of Canmore and on up the valley where the reservoir now lies. They trekked up the Spray River, then along a tributary, White Man's Creek, and across the Great Divide at White Man's Pass (Fig. 1) (Fraser 1969). The Reverend Robert Rundle was also in the area in 1841. After camping at the confluence of the Bow and Spray rivers, Rundle explored the Spray Valley where it parallels the mountain that now bears his name (Appleby 1975). In 1845, Father Pierre Jean de Smet, a Jesuit priest, came east from Lake Windermere via the Kootenay River and one of its tributaries to the summit of White Man's Pass "where all was wild sublimity". He erected a large cross on the pass, and the river which drains the west side of the pass was henceforth known as the Cross River. From White Man's Pass, de Smet travelled down the Spray River, which was "jewelled with enamelled beads", and on out to the foothills (Fraser 1969).

Canmore, the first divisional point on the Canadian Pacific Railway west of Calgary, was founded in 1884. By 1889, there were 450 residents in the town and the Canmore Mine had been developed to produce coal for the railway (Appleby 1975).

Banff National Park was established in 1885, and in 1902, the boundary was extended to include the Spray and Kananaskis valleys. Mining and lumbering were still permitted, but in 1930, such activities were deemed inappropriate for a national park and the boundary was shifted westward to exclude the Spray and Kananaskis valleys from the park (Appleby 1975).

The potential of the Spray Lakes valley for electrical power generation was recognized by 1911. Calgary Power Ltd. (now TransAlta Utilities Corporation) made intensive surveys in 1921 but it was 1948 before permits were acquired. Two dams were built: Canyon Dam across the Spray River and Three Sisters Dam across the valley above Canmore. The reservoir was first filled in 1950, and power generation began the same year (Appleby 1975).

Until Kananaskis Country was established in the 1970s, the only road up to Spray Lakes Reservoir was a narrow, rough track clinging to the side of Mount Rundle. Only a few recreational visitors persevered to visit the valley. The road was improved in the mid-1980s and now provides good access to the reservoir. There is one campground on the reservoir, Spray Lakes West Campground (Fig. 2). It is operated by Alberta Recreation and Parks and provides picnic tables and 20 designated sites for tents and trailers (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.).

There are five day-use areas near the lake (Fig. 2): Driftwood Day-Use Area is on the east shore near the north end, it provides the only boat launch on the reservoir, as well as picnic tables and firepits. Sparrowhawk and Spray Lakes day-use areas are farther south along the east shore and provide firepits and picnic tables. Buller Mountain Day-Use Area is a centre for cross-country skiing and is open for camping only in the winter; picnic tables and firepits are provided. Mt. Shark Day-Use Area is reached via a 3-km-long access road from the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail; it provides parking and picnic tables but no firepits.

Spray Lakes Reservoir is a cold, clear water body with no conspicuous algae. The shores are rocky and kept barren by the fluctuating water level. Recreational use of the lake is low, but fishing for lake trout and mountain whitefish is gaining popularity. Fishing for or with bait fish is not permitted. All tributary streams to the reservoir are closed to fishing for most of the year; in 1989 they were open only from 1 July to 31 October (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Some people enjoy power boating on the lake, but boaters should be aware of the risks imposed by very cold water and sudden strong winds. Power boats are restricted to a maximum speed of 12 km/ hour in posted areas (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). Hiking in the southern and western portions of the basin is fairly popular, especially along trails that lead to Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia. Cross-country skiing is very popular on the network of trails that have been developed around the Buller Mountain and Mt. Shark day-use areas.

Physical Information
Area (km2)19.9
Max. Depth (m)65.4
Mean Depth (m)13.5
Dr. Basin Area (km2)493
Dam, WeirDam
Drainage BasinBow River Basin

Recreational Information
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishLake Trout, Mountain Whitefish

Water Quality Information
Trophic StatusOligotrophic
TP x (µg/L)4
CHLORO x (µg/L)2.1
TDS x (mg/L)154

2.Drainage Basin Characteristics »

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