Christina Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets73M/10, 11
Lat / Long54.6666667, -111.0000000
54°40'N, 111°0'W
Area21.3 km2
Max depth32.9 m
Mean depth17.3 m
Dr. Basin Area1250 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinAthabasca River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishWalleye, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, Lake Whitefish
Trophic StatusNo Data
TP x16 µg/L
CHLORO xNo Data µg/L
TDS x123 mg/L
Photo credit: Christina Lake Lodge


Christina Lake is a deep, isolated recreational lake located 125 km south of the city of Fort McMurray in Improvement District No. 18 (North). The closest population centre is the hamlet of Conklin, situated immediately west of the lake (FIGURE 1). The lake has been accessible by an all-weather road only since 1986. In that year, Secondary Road 881, which ran south from Fort McMurray to the locality of Cheecham, was extended an additional 75 km south to Conklin. In 1989, the road was paved only between Fort McMurray and the hamlet of Anzac, about 90 km north of Christina Lake (Schroder 1988). Christina Lake is not easily accessible from the south. There is a landing strip at Conklin. To drive to the lake from the Lac La Biche area, most visitors take Highway 63 north to Fort McMurray and then Secondary Road 881 south to Conklin. A more rigorous route is along the old Conklin Road, a rough road that begins just north of Lac La Biche (Alta. Native Aff. 1986).

Although spelled incorrectly, the lake was named for Christine Gordon, the first white woman to make her home permanently in Fort McMurray. During the early 1900s, she operated a trading post in competition with the Hudson's Bay Company (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976).

The first settlement at Christina Lake was located at the extreme northwestern end of the lake near the outlet, the Jackfish River. When the Northern Alberta Railway arrived, most of the buildings relocated close to the railroad tracks, in what is now Conklin. Christina Lake is the major domestic water source for residents of the hamlet. From 1940 to 1960, commercial fishing and mink ranching were important industries at the lake. During this period, a fish-processing plant and several mink farms were located at or near the outlet. Another mink farm was located on the large peninsula on the north shore of the eastern basin (Christina L. Mgt. Plan Team 1989).

There are no publicly owned recreational facilities on the lake. Christina Lake Recreation Resort, a commercially operated facility, provides the only access to the water. It is located on the north shore at the west end of the lake (FIGURE 2). The resort is open year-round and has 100 campsites, cabins, picnic tables, sewage disposal facilities, pump water, a grocery store, a marina, boat launch, boat rentals, a playground, a beach, and hiking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing trails. Improvement District No. 18 (North) holds a recreational lease for Crown land at the western end of the lake. The facility, Wassasi Day Use Area, is administered by the Conklin Recreation Society, and access is restricted to local residents.

Camping, picnicking, and fishing for walleye, northern pike and yellow perch are the favoured recreational activities at the lake. Arctic grayling is a popular catch in the Jackfish River. Christina Lake is closed to sport fishing during a designated period in April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Swimming, wind surfing, water skiing, power boating, row boating, canoeing and hiking are other popular activities (Randall Conrad & Assoc. 1988). There are no boating restrictions specific to the lake, but general federal regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). The water is quite transparent during summer, and the density of aquatic plants is low.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Christina Lake's extensive drainage basin is almost 60 times larger than the lake (Tables 1, 2). Most of it lies to the south of the lake and much of this portion is drained by Birch and Sunday creeks, which are the largest of the six streams that flow into the lake (FIGURE 1). The outlet, the Jackfish River, is located at the western tip of the lake. It flows north into the nearby Christina River, which eventually flows into the Athabasca River.

The drainage basin is part of a till plain that slopes gradually downward to the northeast. Land in the northeast portion of the watershed is level to nearly level, and the remainder is gently undulating to gently rolling. The main soil parent material in the drainage basin is sandy or gravelly outwash and the most common soils are Podzolic Gray and Orthic Gray Luvisols (Wynnyk et al. 1963). Generally, the area is poorly drained and muskeg covers up to 80% of the land. The watershed is located in the Wet Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The vegetation consists of black spruce, willows and Labrador tea on Organic soils, trembling aspen, balsam poplar and white spruce on moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols and jack pine on sandy soils. The low hills surrounding the lake are covered with a mixed forest of birch, balsam poplar and white spruce; willows and wet areas are present along the shore.

Although there is no agricultural activity in the drainage basin, there is considerable oil and gas activity. With the exception of Conklin, all land bordering the lake is Crown land. The population of Conklin in 1981 was 116 people. The majority of the residents are Metis, and some of them maintain a traditional hunting and trapping lifestyle (Alta. Native Aff. 1986). Although the eastern boundary of the hamlet touches the lakeshore, there is no residential development along the shore (Randall Conrad & Assoc. 1988). A lake management plan for Christina Lake was drafted by Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife in 1989. The finalized document will be used by Improvement District No. 18 (North) as the basis for an area structure plan that will guide future developments on the lakeshore.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Christina Lake is a long, narrow water body oriented in an east-west direction (FIGURE 2). It has three deep basins that drop off abruptly to maximum depths of 33 m, 26 m and 24 m. The east and west basins are long and narrow and, in comparison, the central basin is small and round. In places, the lake is 12- to 15-m deep only 9 m from shore (Bradley n.d.). A shallow constriction joins the west and central basins. In addition to the three deep basins, there are two shallower basins. They branch north from the east basin and reach maximum depths of 12.2 m and 1.5 m. The mean depth of the lake is about 17 m (TABLE 2). Along the shoreline, extensive areas of sand and gravel form beaches.

The water level in Christina Lake has been recorded since November 1985 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[c]). Because the elevation of the lake has not been surveyed, the water levels refer to an assumed bench mark rather than geodetic elevation. The maximum observed water level was 29.54 m on 26 July 1986, and the minimum was 28.40 m on 15 October 1987, a fluctuation of 1.14 m.

Water Quality

The water quality of Christina Lake was surveyed by Alberta Environment on 29 August 1983 and 19 March 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). The limited data suggest that the water is well-buffered and fresh, and not as hard as that of most prairie lakes (TABLE 3). The main ions are bicarbonate and calcium. Because of its great depth, the lake becomes strongly thermally stratified during summer (FIGURE 3). By late August 1983, the surface temperature had warmed to 19°C and the dissolved oxygen concentration, which was monitored only to 20 m, declined to about 5 mg/L below a depth of 9 m (FIGURE 3). In March 1986, dissolved oxygen concentrations dropped to less than 5 mg/L only at depths below 24 m.

The trophic status of Christina Lake cannot be determined because of insufficient data. However, the relatively low total phosphorus concentration (16 µg/L) and the very clear water on 29 August 1983 (TABLE 4) suggest that the lake is quite unproductive.

Biological Characteristics

No recent data are available for the plant and invertebrate communities in Christina Lake. A June 1969 survey by Fish and Wildlife Division staff briefly described aquatic macrophyte distribution and the composition of the invertebrate population (Bradley n.d.).


The density of aquatic macrophytes in June 1969 was low, except in the two shallow northern bays at the east end of the lake and in the western bay. Suitable habitat for macrophytes is limited because of the steeply sloping sides of most of the lake basin.


The density of benthic invertebrates, calculated from 44 samples taken on 14 and 15 June in 1969, was 1,624 organisms/m2 for all depths combined. Only the total volume of midge larvae (Chironomidae) and scuds (Amphipoda), the most abundant groups, was calculated (4.66 mL/m2). Chironomids were most numerous (833/m2), but accounted for only 26% of the total volume. Amphipods were secondary in abundance (691/m2), but accounted for 74% of the total volume.


Seven species of fish have been captured in Christina Lake: walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, lake whitefish, cisco, burbot and white sucker (Bradley n.d.). As well, Arctic grayling are present in the Jackfish and Christina rivers (Sullivan 1988). The lake is managed for domestic, commercial and recreational fisheries. There is no recent information on the domestic fishery, but in 1969 and 1970, nets were set daily and the bulk of the catch was whitefish, white suckers, burbot and pike (Bradley n.d.).

Records for the commercial fishery have been kept since 1942/43 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks 1976). Historically, cisco and whitefish were the main catches and burbot, white suckers, northern pike and walleye were of secondary importance. Both whitefish and cisco are infested with cysts of the tapeworm Triaenophorus crassus. The largest whitefish catch (12,277 kg) was taken in 1957/58, and the largest cisco catch (33,628 kg) was taken in 1950/51. The lake was not fished between 1967 and 1970. As well, no licences were issued for six of the nine years from 1979/80 to 1987/88. During the 1970s, the average total catch was 3,951 kg/year. Catch rates declined considerably, however, during the 1980s. From 1980/81 to 1987/88, the average total catch for the three years when the fishery opened was 538 kg/year. The composition of the average catch was 66% whitefish, 20% walleye, 11 northern pike and 3% cisco (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The catch of burbot and white suckers was not recorded for this period.

There is little information available about the sport fishery. Until 1986, when Secondary Road 881 was completed, access to the lake was generally restricted to anglers who arrived by plane or train. District Fisheries Officers have reported that, since 1986, fishing pressure has increased considerably (Sullivan 1988). Walleye is the most valued species in Christina Lake, and Arctic grayling is the prime catch in the Jackfish River (Randall Conrad & Assoc. 1988).


Christina Lake is rated as fair for waterfowl production. Four areas of the lake provide the best waterfowl habitat: the shallowest basin that branches north from the east side of the lake, the Jackfish River at the outlet, the marsh near Sunday Creek and the delta of Sunday Creek. At least 29 species of waterbirds have been observed feeding at the lake or using the lake as a staging area. Bald Eagles and Ospreys have also been sighted (Christina L. Mgt. Plan Team 1989).

Most of the wildlife habitat near the lake is undisturbed, as access is difficult by land, and hunting pressure is not heavy. Caribou are present throughout the area, and the shoreland is classed as fair to good moose habitat. Many beaver lodges are located along the lakeshore, and otters are also present (Christina L. Mgt. Plan Team 1989).

M.E. Bradford


Alberta Environment. n.d.[a]. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[b]. Tech. Serv. Div., Hydrol. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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

Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife. n.d. Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1988. Boating in Alberta. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

-----. 1989. Guide to sportfishing. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Alberta Native Affairs. 1986. A guide to native communities in Alberta. Native Aff. Secret., Edmonton.

Alberta Recreation, Parks and Wildlife. 1976. Commercial fisheries catch statistics for Alberta, 1942-1975. Fish Wild. Div., Fish. Mgt. Rep. No. 22, Edmonton.

Alberta Research Council. 1972. Geological map of Alberta. Nat. Resour. Div., Alta. Geol. Surv., Edmonton.

Bradley, G.M. n.d. Preliminary biological survey of six lakes in northern Alberta, 1969. Surv. Rep. No. 15. Alta. Ld. For., Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Christina Lake Management Plan Team. 1989. Alternatives document for the Christina Lake management plan: Draft. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., For. Serv. Div. Unpubl. rep., Fort McMurray.

Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. 1975. National topographic series 1:250 000 73M (1975). Surv. Map. Br., Ottawa.

Environment Canada. 1982. Canadian climate normals, Vol. 7: Bright sunshine (1951-1980). Prep. by Atm. Envir. Serv. Supply Serv. Can., Ottawa.

Griffiths, W.E. and D.B. Ferster. 1974. Preliminary fisheries survey of the Winefred-Pelican area. Alta. Ld. For., Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Holmgren, E.J. and P.M. Holmgren. 1976. Over 2000 place names of Alberta. 3rd ed. West. Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon.

Randall Conrad & Associates. 1988. Athabasca River basin study: Water based recreation component. Prep. for Alta. Envir., Plan. Div. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

Schroder, J. 1988. Alta. Transp. Util., Reg. Transp. Div., Lac La Biche. Pers. comm.

Strong, W.L. and K.R. Leggat. 1981. Ecoregions of Alberta. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Resour. Eval. Plan. Div., Edmonton.

Sullivan, M. 1988. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., St. Paul. Pers. comm.

Wynnyk, A., J.D. Lindsay, P.K. Heringa and W. Odynsky. 1963. Exploratory soil survey of Alberta map sheets 83-O, 83-P, and 73-M. Prelim. Soil Surv. Rep. 64-1. Res. Counc. Alta., Edmonton.