Lac La Nonne

Basic Info
Map Sheets83G/16
Lat / Long53.9333333, -114.3166667
53°55'N, 114°19'W
Area11.8 km2
Max depth19.8 m
Mean depth7.8 m
Dr. Basin Area277 km2
Dam, WeirWeir
Drainage BasinAthabasca River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusHyper-Eutrophic
TP x168 µg/L
CHLORO x55.5 µg/L
TDS x186 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Lac la Nonne is a highly developed, popular recreational lake. It is situated about 90 km northwest of the city of Edmonton in the counties of Barrhead and Lac Ste. Anne. To reach the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 16 west, then Highway 43 north and west to the village of Gunn. Highway 33 extends north from Gunn near the west side of the lake, but local roads must be taken to reach the lakeshore (FIGURE 1). The east shore can be reached by local roads from Secondary Road 651. The town of Barrhead, 20 km north of the lake, is the closest large population centre.

The lake's name, which means "the nun" in French, has an uncertain origin. The Cree name for the lake, mi-ka-sioo, means "eagle". In 1827, Edward Ermatinger recorded the lake's name in his journal as Lac la Nane. The lake may have been named for the White-winged Scoter, a duck that is common on the lake and is similar to an English duck known as "the nun". The bird's colouring, which is black with white wing bars and a white spot on the head, suggests a black-robed nun (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). Another suggestion is that the lake was named for the nuns at nearby Lac Ste. Anne Mission, though the mission was not founded until 1843.

The Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post at Lac la Nonne in the early 1800s. The post was used to pasture the herds of pack horses needed to portage goods from Edmonton House to Fort Assiniboine on the Athabasca River (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Alta. Mun. Aff. 1980). By the 1830s, there were considerable numbers of Métis living by the lake. Missionaries arrived in the 1870s, and in 1878, the Oblate Fathers established a mission on the southeast shore at the site of the present-day Catholic Church in Camp Encounter. When the fur trade declined, the Métis moved away and the trading post and mission were closed (Barrhead Dist. Hist. Soc. 1967).

By the 1890s, several white families had settled around the lakeshore, and by 1912, most of the available land had been home-steaded. Horse and cattle raising were important occupations, and sawmills operated periodically near the lake. The first summer cottages were built on the eastern shore in the early 1900s. For many years the local recreation centre was Killdeer Beach Resort on the southwest shore. It began business in about 1928, and held activities such as "amphibious" horse races (Barrhead Dist. Hist. Soc. 1967). At present, it is one of two commercial facilities at the lake, which offer a total of 410 campsites (Alta. Hotel Assoc. 1989). As well, there is a restaurant, a gas station and three small stores in the subdivisions on the lakeshore. There are no provincial or municipal campgrounds at the lake.

There are several public access points with boat launches on Lac la Nonne (FIGURE 2). They are maintained by either the County of Barrhead or the County of Lac Ste. Anne. The facilities in Lac la Nonne Subdivision at the southeast tip of the lake consist of three picnic tables, a water pipe and an area where small boats can be hand launched. A picnic area and boat launch are also located at the end of the road allowance near Greendale Subdivision, in the central part of the eastern shore. As well, there is one boat launch in the summer village of Birch Cove on the northwest shore and another in Williams Subdivision on the south shore. There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas either all boats are prohibited or power boats are restricted to speeds of 12 km/hour (Alta. For.Ld. Wild. 1988). The County of Lac Ste. Anne maintains a cross-country ski trail, the Yukon trail, on Crown land northwest of the lake.

Lac la Nonne has dense blue-green algal blooms during summer and aquatic plants are abundant around the shoreline. The aquatic vegetation is frequently considered a nuisance by cottage owners, boaters and anglers. Although dissolved oxygen concentrations can become critical for fish survival during both summer and winter, no major fish kills have been reported. Walleye and northern pike are the main catches in the popular summer sport fishery. Walleye may contain concentrations of natural mercury that exceed recommended safe levels (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). During winter, the most sought-after species are perch and large northern pike. All tributary streams to, and the outlet from, Lac la Nonne are closed to sport fishing for a designated period during April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Lac la Nonne has a very large drainage basin that is about 23 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). The main inflow to the lake is Majeau Creek, which drains the western and central portions of the watershed (FIGURE 1). Two smaller creeks flow into the southeast shore. The outflow is MacDonald Creek, which flows into the Pembina River about 3 km north of the lake. The general direction of groundwater movement in the drainage basin is southwest to northeast. The flowing wells located on the east side of the lake indicate a groundwater discharge area there. Groundwater in the area is alkaline and has high concentrations of total dissolved solids (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Alta. Mun. Aff. 1980).

The land surface throughout the watershed is extremely variable. It ranges from relatively level lacustrine and glacial till plains to moderately and strongly rolling morainal areas (Twardy 1977). Soils have been mapped and described in general for the drainage basin and in detail for an area within 1.6 km of the shoreline (Lindsay et al. 1968; Twardy 1977). In the study area adjacent to the lake, the predominant soils are moderately well-drained to well-drained Gray Luvisols that developed on lacustrine material or glacial till. Regosolic soils are present on the beach sands near parts of the lakeshore and on the floodplains of creeks. Imperfectly to moderately well-drained Solonetric soils that developed on moderately fine-textured till, weathered bedrock material, and fine-textured lacustrine material, are located northeast of the lake. Throughout the remainder of the drainage basin, Orthic and Solodic Gray Luvisols and Solonetzic soils are common and Organic deposits are significant. The Organics are characterized by accumulations of moss or sedge peat in depressional areas.

The watershed is part of the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). Trembling aspen and balsam poplar are the main trees on moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols. White spruce predominates on imperfectly drained Gleysols and Gray Luvisols, black spruce and willows grow on poorly drained Organics and Gleysols, and sedges are found on very poorly drained Organics.

A large part of the drainage basin, particularly in the southern and central portions, has been cleared of forest (FIGURE 1). Soils with the best agricultural rating (fairly good to good arability) are located south of Majeau Lake. Around Nakamun Lake and in the central part of the drainage basin the soil has a poor to fair arability rating. Around Lac la Nonne, large areas that are rated as suitable for pasture and woodland are interspersed with lands that have poor to fair and fair to fairly good ratings (Lindsay et al. 1968). The main agricultural activities in the watershed are cattle and forage production (Mitchell and Hamilton 1982).

Most of shoreline is privately owned. The only Crown land near the lakeshore is located to the northwest (FIGURE 2). Grazing leases are held on three of these nine quarter-sections (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Alta. Mun. Aff. 1980). Subdivision development at Lac la Nonne began in 1947, when 23 lots were created in Lac la Nonne Subdivision. By 1980, 605 resort lots had been registered in 13 subdivisions on or very near the shores of the lake. Between 1982 and 1989, the number of registered lots had increased by 10, and the Birch Cove Subdivision had become a summer village (Yell. Reg. Plan. Commis. n.d.).

Concerns about major developments around the lake increased during the 1970s. The number of applications for subdivisions had increased, more cottages were winterized, and use of the lake by the general public had intensified. In response to these concerns, the provincial government restricted shoreline development in 1977 under the Lake Shoreland Development Operation Regulations, which were administered by Alberta Environment. This allowed preparation of a lake management plan, which was completed in 1980 (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Alta. Mun. Aff. 1980; Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. 1981). This plan determined the extent of future land developments, allocated land use and determined ways to minimize environmental impacts and conflicts in uses of the lakeshore. It recommended preferred lake uses and ways to minimize lake-user conflicts. Subsequently, an area structure plan was adopted by the counties of Lac Ste. Anne and Barrhead in 1982 (Edm. Metro. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Yell. Reg. Plan. Commis. 1982). The area structure plan defines land-use and development policies for the area and classifies parcels of land for various uses.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Lac la Nonne is a medium-sized water body with a fairly regular shoreline (TABLE 2). The lake has a single basin that reaches a maximum depth of almost 20 m at the northwest end (FIGURE 2). The sides of the basin slope quite steeply in the northwest half of the lake but more gradually in the southeast half, where the maximum depth is a little over 9 m. A large island is present at the southeast end of the lake.

The provincial government built a rock and timber weir on the outlet, MacDonald Creek, in 1939 (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.). This structure was funded by a local group of sportsmen and by Ducks Unlimited (Canada). It was replaced by Ducks Unlimited (Canada) in 1948 with another rock and timber structure to help improve water­fowl habitat and create a reservoir that would supply downstream landowners. In 1966, the provincial government replaced the structure with a weir consisting of cement-filled bags and rocks. There has been disagreement among local landowners regarding the preferred level for the lake. Efforts are ongoing to reach a consensus regarding lake levels (Alta. Envir. n.d.[d]).

The elevation of Lac la Nonne has been monitored since 1956 (FIGURE 3). The difference between the minimum elevation (663.24 m), recorded in October 1968, and the maximum elevation (664.40 m), recorded in May 1974, is 1.16 m. Precipitation levels in 1974 were very high. Between 1980 and 1988, the range in lake levels was 0.70 m. Figure 4 shows the changes in area and capacity of the lake as the water level fluctuates.

Water Quality

Water quality in Lac la Nonne was studied by Alberta Environment from 1977 to 1979 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; 1985; Hamilton 1980). Phosphorus export from the Majeau Creek watershed to Lac la Nonne was studied in 1981 (Mitchell and Hamilton 1982).

The lake has fresh water that is hard and well buffered (TABLE 3). The dominant ions are bicarbonate and calcium. The water column becomes thermally stratified during summer (FIGURE 5). In some years, as in 1978 (FIGURE 6), dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water column become quite severely depleted. From July to September in 1978, water was anoxic below a depth of 15 m. By September, dissolved oxygen concentrations at the surface had declined to 5 mg/L. A similar pattern of dissolved oxygen depletion was observed in 1979. During February 1978, dissolved oxygen concentrations above a depth of 8 m ranged from 6 to 11 mg/L, but were less than 2 mg/L below that depth (FIGURE 6). In March 1979, dissolved oxygen levels were only 6 mg/L at the surface and less than 1 mg/L below a depth of 10 m.

Lac la Nonne is hyper-eutrophic. In 1988, chlorophyll a concentrations reached a maximum of 140 µg/L in July, and total phosphorus concentrations reached a maximum of 309 µg/L in August (FIGURE 7). The water is often fairly clear in early summer, but it becomes turbid with algae by late June or early July. In 1988, the average Secchi depth was only 1.9 m (TABLE 4).

The supply of total phosphorus from sources external to the lake has been estimated (TABLE 5). Runoff from agricultural and cleared land in the immediate watershed accounts for more than half (57%) of the total load of 4,894 kg/year. Inflow from Majeau Lake via Majeau Creek is secondary (20%) in importance. All other sources, such as sewage inputs, are minor in comparison to these two sources. Inputs of phosphorus from the Majeau Creek watershed are high because of the large numbers of cattle produced in the area. In 1981, the average total phosphorus concentration in streams in the entire Majeau watershed was 904 µg/L. In comparison, the concentration of phosphorus in streams draining Lake Wabamun's watershed, where land use is mixed agriculture and forest, is only about 300 µg/L (Mitchell 1985). Phosphorus loading from internal sources has not been estimated, but is likely to be important. The area loading rate for Lac la Nonne (0.41 g/m2 of lake surface) is very high. It is similar to the rate calculated for Baptiste Lake (0.35 g/m2) and much higher than that calculated for Lake Wabamun (0.08 g/m2).

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community was sampled at three sites by Alberta Environment 6 times from February to October in both 1978 and 1979 (Beliveau and Furnell 1980). In 1979, blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) were the dominant group at two sites during March, but were replaced by cryptophytes and diatoms (Bacillariophyta) at all three sites during May and June. During July, August and October, however, over 97% of the alga) biomass was made up of blue-greens. These blue-greens grow in response to low oxygen conditions over the sediments and high total phosphorus concentrations (Trimbee and Prepas 1987; 1988).

There are few data for the macrophyte community. Emergent plants such as bulrush (Scirpus spp.), sedges (Carex spp.) and cattails (Typha spp.), and unspecified submergent plants, grow around the shoreline.


There are no data for the zooplankton and benthic invertebrate communities.


Seven species of fish have been reported in Lac la Nonne: lake whitefish, walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, cisco, burbot and white sucker. Largemouth bass were stocked in 1926, but they are not found in the lake at present (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The lake whitefish and cisco are infested with cysts of the tapeworm Triaenophorus crassus (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976).

Lac la Nonne is managed for recreational and domestic fisheries. There are no data for the domestic fishery. A commercial fishery for lake whitefish and cisco operated in the lake from 1945/46 to 1974/75 (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). Walleye were an incidental catch taken under a tolerance quota. The lake whitefish population declined after 1960 and the cisco population increased. The cisco were used for animal food on mink ranches in the Seba Beach and Edmonton areas until the ranches went out of business. In response to the decline in demand for cisco, as well as a conflict between the sport and commercial fisheries over the commercial walleye catch, the commercial fishery was closed after February 1975 (Stenton 1989). Since then, the walleye population has increased considerably (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Alta. Mun. Aff. 1980).

Lac la Nonne's recreational fishery is quite popular on a local and regional scale. A brief creel survey was conducted in 1988 over three days between 29 May and 7 June (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The 148 anglers interviewed fished for a total of 322 hours and caught 116 walleye and 366 northern pike. Approximately 72% of the northern pike and 12% of the walleye were released. Therefore, although the catch rate was 1.5 fish/angler-hour, the harvest rate was 0.32 fish per angler-hour for both species combined. Most anglers interviewed were fishing for walleye; this accounts for the high release rate for northern pike. The low release rate for walleye indicates that most anglers will keep walleye, regardless of size. In a sample of 100 walleye, the dominant age class was 5 years, the mean fork length was 39.9 cm, and the mean weight was 679 g.


There are few data for the wildlife in the Lac la Nonne area. Water birds that have been observed on the lake include Lesser Scaup, Redheads, White-winged Scoters, Common Goldeneye, Blue-winged Teal, Mallards, Western Grebes, gulls and Common Loons. Waterfowl are limited by lack of nesting sites for upland and overwater nesters, a shortage of loafing areas, the sparseness of emergent aquatic vegetation and increasing recreational use of the lake (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.).

White-tailed deer are the primary ungulates found in the area, and there is some evidence of mule deer and moose (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. and Alta. Mun. Aff. 1980).

M.E. Bradford


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-----and H.R. Hamilton. 1982. Assessment of phosphorus expert from the Majeau Creek watershed Lac la Nonne. Alta. Envir. Poll. Contr. Div. Water Qlty. Contr. Br, Edmonton.

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-----. 1988. The effect of oxygen depletion on the timing and magnitude of blue-green algal blooms. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 23:220-226.

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