Calling Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83P
Lat / Long55.2500000, -113.3166667
55°15'N, 113°19'W
Area138 km2
Max depth18.3 m
Mean depthN/A m
Dr. Basin Area1090 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinAthabasca River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishBrown Trout, Walleye, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, Lake Whitefish
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x50 µg/L
CHLORO x19.1 µg/L
TDS x99 mg/L
Photo credit: Alberta Recreation and Parks


Calling Lake is a large, attractive recreational lake noted for its sandy shoreline. It is located in Improvement District No. 17 (East) about 200 km north of the city of Edmonton. The town of Athabasca, 55 km to the south, is the closest large population centre, and the hamlet of Calling Lake is located on the lake's eastern shore. To drive to the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 2 north to Athabasca, then Secondary Road 813 north to the hamlet and Calling Lake Provincial Park (FIGURE 1).

The lake's name is a translation of the Cree name, which refers to the loud noises heard when the lake freezes over and the ice breaks up (Geog. Bd. Can. 1928; Alta. Native Aff. 1986). The Calling Lake area has been inhabited for many thousands of years. Archeological digs near the lake have uncovered the tools and weapons of a band of hunter-gatherers who used the area as a relatively permanent base in about 6,000 B.C. (Athabasca Hist. Soc. et al. 1986). More recent inhabitants of the area were Woodland Cree, and early fur traders who sometimes caught their winter supply of fish in the lake (Finlay and Finlay 1987).

Members of the Bigstone Cree Indian Band live on St. Jean Baptiste Gambler Indian Reserve No. 183, located on the eastern shore of Calling Lake, and in the hamlet of Calling Lake (Alta. Native Aff. 1986). A 1986 census estimated the hamlet's population to be 408 permanent and 720 seasonal residents and the reserve's population to be 93 people (Calling L. Plan. Commit. et al. 1988).

Calling Lake Provincial Park was established in 1971 on 741 ha of land on the southern shore (FIGURE 2). The park is open from May to September and has 25 campsites, flush toilets, tap water, a boat launch, a swimming area and a picnic area. Activities enjoyed by park visitors include swimming, fishing, camping, motor boating and canoeing. There is a narrow beach at the park and the lake bottom near shore is sandy. There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas, either motor boats are restricted to speeds of 12 km/hour or less, or all boats are prohibited (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Recreational facilities within the hamlet of Calling Lake are limited to an undeveloped public beach near the Calling River (FIGURE 2). A private sailing club is located between this beach and the provincial park.

The water in Calling Lake is quite transparent for most of the year, but turns green in midsummer. Aquatic vegetation grows sparsely along the northern shore, and the remainder of the shoreline is mostly unvegetated sand or a mixture of rocks and sand. The lake supports a small commercial fishery for lake whitefish. The main sport fish are northern pike, yellow perch and walleye. Brown trout were stocked from 1985 to 1987, but the success of the program was not known as of 1989. All tributary streams to, and the outlet from, Calling Lake are closed to sport fishing for a designated period during April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Calling Lake has a large drainage basin that covers an area of 1,090 km2, mostly to the north of the lake (TABLE 1, FIGURE 1). The main inflow is locally known as Rock Island River; it drains Rock Island Lake and the northern portion of the watershed and flows into Calling Lake at the northwest end. Several smaller streams flow into the lake on the east and west sides. The outlet, the Calling River, flows from the southeast end to the Athabasca River, which is located about 25 km downstream.

A prominent feature of the watershed is the high land at the northwest corner that forms the southeast face of Pelican Mountain. This hill is part of the divide between the Peace River and the Athabasca River drainage systems. Elevations range from 927 m on the mountain top to 760 m on the adjacent rolling land. Soil parent materials in this northwestern area are gravelly glaciofluvial outwash, till and moss peat bog (Wynnyk et al. 1963). The soils are mainly Podzolic Gray Luvisols or Orthic Gray Luvisols that formed on coarse-textured fluvial material overlying the till. This portion of the watershed is part of the Boreal Foothills Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The dominant trees on well-drained to moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols are trembling aspen, balsam poplar and lodgepole pine, with succession by white spruce. Open stands of lodgepole pine are the dominant vegetation on well-drained Brunisols and imperfectly drained Gleysols, and black spruce, willows and sedges grow on poorly drained to very poorly drained Organics and Gleysols.

The remainder of the drainage basin can be divided into two areas, which have some differences in soil parent materials and topography, but similarities in soils and vegetation. In the first area, which is east and northeast of Rock Island Lake, the land is poorly drained and relatively flat, with many depressions and a high proportion of moss and sedge peat bogs (Wynnyk et al. 1963). Elevations range from 655 m to the east of Rock Island Lake to 760 m at the extreme northeast corner of the drainage basin. Organics and sandy glaciofluvial outwash are the main soil parent materials, with lesser amounts of till. In the second area, which is south of Rock Island Lake, the land is predominantly a gently rolling morainal plain, with occasional small areas of rolling topography (Wynnyk et al. 1963). Elevations range from 610 to 730 m and drainage is poor in many areas. The main soil parent materials are till or sandy glaciofluvial outwash. The most extensive soils in both areas are Organics, Podzols, Podzolic Gray Luvisols and Orthic Gray Luvisols. In both areas, the watershed is part of the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The forest cover is mainly trembling aspen, balsam poplar and white spruce on moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols, jack pine on well-drained Eutric Brunisols, white spruce on imperfectly drained Gleysols and Gray Luvisols, and black spruce, willows and sedges on poorly drained to very poorly drained Organics and Gleysols.

At the lakeshore, the land on the east and south sides is mainly high and well drained, and slopes gently to moderately toward the water (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The soils within Calling Lake Provincial Park were described and mapped intensively in 1973 (Greenlee 1973). A large area of muskeg is located along the western shore where the more northerly of the two western inflows enters the lake (FIGURE 1). The remainder of the western shore is high and well drained, with moderately to steeply sloping banks toward the northwest end. The northern shoreland is low-lying and depressional, and is covered by a large area of muskeg that extends several kilometres north of the lake.

A large portion of Calling Lake's drainage basin is covered by wetlands, and most of the remainder is forested (FIGURE 1). Only a few small areas southwest of the lake are being farmed. The oil and gas industry is not significant in the area, and most residents of the hamlet of Calling Lake are employed in the forestry, commercial fishing and trapping industries (Calling L. Plan. Commit. et al. 1988).

The hamlet and St. Jean Baptiste Gambler Indian Reserve are the only residential areas in the drainage basin. Their boundaries encompass almost one-third of Calling Lake's shoreline. The remainder of the shoreline is Crown land. In 1980, a Community Plan was developed for the hamlet (Calling L. Plan. Commit. et al. 1980). This plan served as a general guide for future development, but had no legal status under the Planning Act. In 1988, a Community Development Strategy Area Structure Plan was completed (Calling L. Plan. Commit. et al. 1988). The plan will serve as a decision-making tool for all land use and development matters pertaining to the hamlet. In 1987, there were 270 permanent and 240 seasonal residences within the hamlet and about 100 vacant residential lots (Calling L. Plan. Commit. et al. 1988).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Calling Lake, with a surface area of 138 km2 (TABLE 2), is one of Alberta's larger lakes. The lake basin has a simple, regular shape, with three sides that slope gradually to a flat bottom and a western side that slopes somewhat more steeply (FIGURE 2). The maximum depth of 18.3 m is located in the centre of the basin.

The lake bottom to depths of 9 to 14 m is composed of sand and small rocks, with very little organic matter. In deeper areas, the bottom is a thick layer of organic matter over sand (Miller and Macdonald 1949). Rocks cover the sand at the water's edge along the west and northeast shores. The lake bottom along south and southeast shores is sandy and has few rocks; the water is shallow for several hundred metres and the sand extends well out into the lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Trees grow down to the water's edge along much of the shoreline.

In 1947, Ducks Unlimited (Canada) and the provincial government built a rock-filled weir at the lake's outlet, the Calling River (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.). Water levels had become undesirably low, and the weir was an effort to reestablish higher levels. By 1952, the lake level had risen, but by 1962, the structure had fallen into disrepair and was removed. The lake's elevation has been monitored since 1957 (FIGURE 3). The historic minimum elevation, 593.58 m, was recorded in November 1968 and the maximum, 595.14 m, was recorded in July 1970. This is a maximum fluctuation of 1.56 m. From 1980 to 1987, the maximum fluctuation was 0.87 m. In addition to water level data, Alberta Environment is collecting discharge data for Calling Lake to develop a water balance model.

Water Quality

Water quality in Calling Lake was monitored monthly during the open-water season in 1987 and 1988 by Alberta Environment (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). The lake has slightly coloured, fresh water, and alkalinity that is relatively low for an Alberta lake (TABLE 3). The dominant ions are bicarbonate and calcium.

Although the lake is moderately deep, it was usually well-mixed during the open-water period in 1988. On calm days during summer, weak thermal stratification was evident. The maximum difference in water temperature from the surface to a depth of 17 m was 3°C in July (FIGURE 4). Despite some mixing of the water column, dissolved oxygen was depleted in the deeper water during July and August in 1988, with concentrations less than 4 mg/L at depths greater than 14 m (FIGURE 5). There was some depletion of dissolved oxygen below the ice during February 1987 and 1988. In 1987, the water was anoxic below 15 m, but there was sufficient dissolved oxygen to sustain the fish population at depths above 12 m. There are no records of fish kills in Calling Lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

Calling Lake is eutrophic. In 1988, the mean chlorophyll a concentration was 19 µg/L and the mean total phosphorus concentration was 50 µg/L (TABLE 4). Concentrations of both variables were low in May (FIGURE 6); chlorophyll a increased to a maximum of 33 µg/L in August and total phosphorus reached a maximum of 81 µg/L in September; concentrations of both variables decreased in October. This pattern is typical for mixed lakes in Alberta and probably reflects a release of phosphorus from the sediments as water temperatures increase.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton in Calling Lake was sampled with nets in August 1949 (Miller and Macdonald 1949). The most abundant species were the blue-green alga Rivularia sp., an unidentified filamentous green alga, and the diatom Stephanodiscus sp. No recent data are available.

Macrophytes in Calling Lake have not been identified. In a 1957 report, Fish and Wildlife Division noted that there were few macrophytes on the southern and eastern sides of the lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Plants grew most densely along the north side but, even there, the density was considered light to moderate.


There is no recent information on the invertebrates in Calling Lake.


Calling Lake supports populations of northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, lake whitefish, cisco, burbot, white sucker, longnose sucker, spottail shiner and Iowa darter. Brown trout have been stocked since 1985 at a rate of 73,000 fingerlings in 1985, 151,500 juveniles in 1986 and 167,400 juveniles in 1987 (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1985; Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1986; 1987). The success of this stocking program has not been evaluated and it is unknown whether brown trout will spawn in the lake or in its tributaries (Watters 1989). Calling Lake is managed for domestic, commercial and recreational fisheries. There are no data available for the domestic and recreational fisheries.

The commercial fishery has operated at least since records were first kept in 1942 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The largest total catch, 325,246 kg, was taken in 1963/64, and the smallest catch, 247 kg, was taken in 1978/79. The fishery was closed for only one year, in 1975/76. In general, catches were highest from 1942/43 until 1970/71 - the average total catch during this period was 128,220 kg/year. Between 1971/72 and 1987/88, the average total catch declined to 8,660 kg/year. The number of licences has declined considerably between the two periods, as well. Prior to 1972, 5 to 105 licences were issued annually, with an average issue of 48 licences. Between 1972 and 1988, 0 to 8 licences were issued annually, with an average issue of only 5 licences. Therefore, the lower total catches since 1972 are partly due to the low effort.

The composition of the catch has varied widely. For instance, lake whitefish formed, on average, only 10% of the total catch between 1941/42 and 1970/71, but about 50% of the total catch from 1971/72 to 1987/88. During the earlier period, burbot, cisco and suckers accounted for an average of 88% of the total catch, and walleye, northern pike and yellow perch were a minor proportion. Cisco catches have declined because there is only a very small market for this species since the mink ranching industry declined during the 1970s, and because the minimum mesh size (140 mm) used is too large to retain many cisco. The market for burbot and suckers is also very small. The lake whitefish are infested with cysts of the tapeworm Triaenophorus crassus and do not bring the best prices on the commercial market.


There is little information on the wildlife at Calling Lake. Moose, deer, black bears and mink frequent the area, and beaver cut trembling aspen along the shore (Nordstrom and Gregg 1975; Finlay and Finlay 1987). The lake does not support a large waterfowl population because of a shortage of loafing areas, a limited number of upland nesting sites, and sparse emergent aquatic vegetation (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.). Mallards nest on the lake, and Gadwalls, Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers and Arctic Loons have been sighted. Bald Eagles have been reported along the shore, and Spruce and Ruffed Grouse are common residents of the area (Nordstrom and Gregg 1975).

M.E. Bradford


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-----. n.d.[c]. Tech. Serv. Div., Surv. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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-----, Improvement District No. 17 (East) Administration and Alberta Municipal Affairs. 1988. Hamlet of Calling Lake community development strategy area structure plan. ID No. 17 (E), Slave Lake.

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Miller, R.B. and W.H. Macdonald. 1950. Preliminary biological surveys of Alberta watersheds, 1947-1949. Alta. Ld. For., Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Nordstrom, W. and A. Gregg. 1975. Beach and backshore assessment of Calling Lake's existing and proposed provincial park areas. Alta. Rec. Parks Wild., Prov. Parks Plan. Div., Edmonton.

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