Moose Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets73L/2, 6, 7
Lat / Long54.2333333, -110.9166667
54°13'N, 110°55'W
Area40.8 km2
Max depth19.8 m
Mean depth5.6 m
Dr. Basin Area755 km2
Dam, WeirWeir
Drainage BasinBeaver River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x41 µg/L
CHLORO x16.8 µg/L
TDS x410 mg/L
Photo credit: F. Schulte


Moose Lake is one of the most popular and scenic lakes in the Lakeland Region of Alberta. Its sandy beaches and good fishing draw hundreds of people to its excellent parks during summer. The lake is situated in the Municipal District of Bonnyville, about 240 km northeast of Edmonton and 3.5 km west of the town of Bonnyville. Access to several points along the north shore, including Moose Lake Provincial Park (FIGURE 1), is available from Secondary Road 660. Access to the east and south shores is available from Highway 28 west of Bonnyville and Highway 28A.

The lake's name is a translation of the French name, Lac d'Orignal. Although moose are rarely found in the area now, the former abundance of the animal no doubt inspired the name. In 1789, Angus Shaw of the North West Company built a trading post, Fort Lac d'Orignal (Shaw House), on the northwest shore of Moose Lake (Geog. Bd. Can. 1928). The first settlers, French Canadians from Beaumont, Alberta, began to homestead in the Bonnyville area in 1907 and 1908, and large numbers of settlers began to arrive after 1912 (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1978; Glendon Hist. Soc. 1985). In 1928, the railroad was extended from St. Paul to Bonnyville, thus ensuring the continued growth and settlement of the area. In the early 1900s, commercial fishing was an important area industry, and by 1936, three large fish-packing plants were in operation. Several mink farms were located around Moose Lake, but they are no longer present.

Much of the lake's shoreline is extensively developed, particularly along the east shores of Vezeau Bay and Bonnyville Beach Bay (FIGURE 2). The first subdivision of land was at Bonnyville Beach in 1945, and rapid development occurred after 1960 (Runge 1977). At present, two summer villages are located on the east shore (FIGURE 2). The summer village of Bonnyville Beach was incorporated in 1958, and the summer village of Pelican Narrows was incorporated in 1979. There were a total of about 130 dwellings in the 2 summer villages in 1988, of which 37% were permanent residences. A number of subdivisions are also situated along the shore. They comprise a total of 794 lots, but not all of these are developed. There are five institutional camps located on Franchere Bay and the west shore of Island Bay and the Bonnyville Golf and Country Club is situated south of Vezeau Bay beside Chatwin Lake.

There are five public campgrounds and day-use areas around the lake, including Moose Lake Provincial Park on the north shore (FIGURE 2). The provincial park was opened in 1967; its facilities include 59 campsites, tap water, beaches, a change house, a boat launch and hiking trails. Franchere Bay Provincial Recreation Area on the west end of Franchere Bay is operated by Alberta Recreation and Parks. Its facilities include 200 campsites, a beach, picnic shelters, tap water and a boat launch. Alberta Recreation and Parks also operates Eastbourne Provincial Recreation Area on the south side of the lake. This facility has 13 campsites, pump water, a picnic shelter and a boat launch. Pelican Point Park, situated on the southeast corner of Franchere Bay, is operated by the Municipal District of Bonnyville. It has 40 campsites, picnic tables, pump water and a launch for small boats. The Vezeau Beach Recreation Area on the southeast corner of Vezeau Bay was transferred to the Municipal District in 1988. It is small and has an undefined area for camping, a picnic shelter, a boat launch and a pier (Alta. Hotel Assoc. 1989).

Moose Lake receives intense recreational use during summer, particularly on weekends. In 1983, cottagers accounted for 47 to 67% of the total recreational use (Marshall Macklin Monaghan West. Ltd. 1983). The most popular recreational activities are swimming, fishing, camping and boating. In designated areas, either all vessels are prohibited or power driven vessels are subject to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Moose Lake has dense blooms of blue-green algae during late summer and fall. The lake supports a commercial fishery, primarily for lake whitefish and a popular sport fishery for walleye, northern pike and yellow perch. There are no special sport fishing regulations for Moose Lake, but general provincial limits and regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). The western region of the lake, particularly Island Bay, is important fish spawning and waterfowl habitat. White Pelicans are conspicuous inhabitants of the lake in summer.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin of Moose Lake is 19 times larger than the area of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Runoff from about 75% of the watershed flows into Franchere Bay via the Thinlake River (FIGURE 1). The Thinlake River is joined by Yelling Creek, which receives water from Chickenhill and Bentley lakes and drains the western portion of the watershed; runoff from the southern portion of the watershed enters Kehiwin and Bangs lakes and then flows into the Thinlake River above Thin Lake. Water from the rest of the drainage basin drains to Moose Lake via five intermittent streams. Moose Lake's outlet is the Mooselake River, which flows northwest from the north side of Franchere Bay to the Beaver River.

The terrain near the lake varies from level to gently undulating (0 to 5% slope) to gently rolling (5 to 9% slope). In the remainder of the watershed, the land is generally undulating, with some areas of moderately rolling hills (9 to 15% slope) in the eastern region (Kocaoglu 1975).

Surficial deposits around the north, west and east sides of the lake are glaciofluvial, consisting of sand and pockets of gravel (Kocaoglu 1975). Parts of the southern and extreme western regions of the drainage basin are ground moraine composed of small knobs, ridges and crevasse fillings. Kehiwin Creek and Kehiwin Lake occupy a major meltwater channel that is partly filled with glacial till and alluvial deposits. Most of the remaining area is ground moraine that forms a nearly featureless glacial till plain.

The dominant soils throughout most of the drainage basin are moderately well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols, with moderately well-drained Dark Gray Luvisols in the western region. Rough, broken land with steep slopes is characteristic of the area along Kehiwin and Bangs lakes, and rapidly drained loamy sand and sandy loam-textured Eluviated Eutric and Dystric Brunisols are located along the north, west and south shores of Moose Lake (Kocaoglu 1975). These soils are not satisfactory for intense development because they have a poor ability to maintain ground cover. Poorly drained Organic soils consisting of Terric, Terric Fibric and Typic Mesisols are located along the northern part of the Thinlake River and the west shore of Island Bay (Runge 1977). Nearly all of the shoreline of Moose Lake is sand, and sandy beaches are present in developed areas (McGregor 1983).

About 46% of the drainage basin is open or has been cleared of its natural forest cover for agriculture (FIGURE 1). Most of the remaining forest is located north and west of Moose Lake and in the southern portion of the drainage basin. It consists of a mixture of trembling aspen, balsam poplar, white birch, white spruce and balsam fir (Alta. Envir. 1983). There are areas of climax forest within Moose Lake Provincial Park; the long point of land at the south end of the park, for example, has escaped damage by fire. With its dense undergrowth and large spruce and aspen, this area differs greatly from the adjacent land (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.).

There are no active commercial forestry operations in the Moose Lake area (Runge 1977). Most agriculture in the upland region around the lake is mixed farming; it is concentrated along the north and east sides of Vezeau Bay and along the south shore of the lake. Forage crops are grown near the lake, and barley and oats are important crops throughout the watershed. There are several small livestock operations near the lake; two are located about 1.5 km south of Vezeau Bay (Hockridge 1988).

Urban land use occupies about 1.6% of the drainage basin area; it consists of the two summer villages and several subdivisions on the shore of Moose Lake, and the western part of Bonnyville, to the east of the lake. In 1977, Moose Lake became subject to the Regulated Lake Shoreland Development Operation Regulations. The regulations prohibited most development at the lake until a lake management plan and an area structure plan were prepared by Alberta Municipal Affairs and adopted by the Municipal District of Bonnyville and the summer villages of Bonnyville Beach and Pelican Narrows. The lake management plan determines the extent of future land developments, allocates land use and determines ways to minimize environmental impacts and conflicts in uses of the lakeshore. It recommends lake uses and ways to minimize lake-user conflicts (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1977; 1979).

A large portion of the shoreland is Crown land, most of which is located in the provincial park and on the west shore (FIGURE 2). The islands in the lake, which cover 3.42 km2 and are also owned by the Crown, have been reserved for recreation since 1969; in 1983, they received the status of Protective Notation (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1987).

Part of Kehiwin Indian Reserve 123 is located in the drainage basin south of Moose Lake. The northeast corner of the reserve borders Muriel Lake. Members of the Kehiwin Band, who are descended from Plains Cree, numbered 900 in 1984 (Alta. Native Aff. 1986).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Moose Lake is a large water body with a surface area of 41 km2 (TABLE 2). It has an irregular shape with four main bays, and there are several islands located in Island Bay (FIGURE 2). The lake as a whole is fairly shallow, with a mean depth of 5.6 m (TABLE 2). The deepest region, in Vezeau Bay, extends to a depth of almost 20 m; Island Bay is less than 3-m deep.

In 1951, following a period of low water levels, the provincial government installed a steel sheet-pile, rock and timber weir on the Mooselake River about 6.4 km downstream of Moose Lake's outlet. Its purpose was to safeguard fish and waterfowl habitat, to maintain a suitable water level for recreation and to ensure a water supply for Bonnyville (Alta. Envir. n.d.[c]). The lake rose to its highest recorded level of 534.10 m in May 1966, after which the weir deteriorated and the level declined considerably (FIGURE 3). By October 1984, the lake had reached its lowest recorded level of 532.60 m. Changes in the area and volume of the lake with variations in water level are illustrated in Figure 4.

In the early 1980s, Alberta Environment initiated studies of the Cold Lake-Beaver River basin to manage the basin's water resources and to resolve concerns regarding high demand on local water supplies. The Cold Lake-Beaver River Long Term Water Management Plan was adopted by the government in October 1985. The plan applies to the surface and groundwater resources in the Cold Lake and lower Beaver River basins. Under this water resources management plan, it was recommended that a control structure be built to stabilize the levels of Moose Lake. In 1986, a new concrete outlet structure was built by Alberta Environment at the same location as the old one. The structure has a main weir, a slightly lower narrow weir to maintain downstream flow, and a vertical slot fishway to allow fish passage upstream into the lake. The weir was designed to stabilize the lake around a target elevation of 533.23 m (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). Water withdrawals from Moose Lake are limited to 3 x 106 m3/year (3000 dam3/year). This allocation is for the current and future needs of the town of Bonnyville, which has withdrawn water from the east shore of Vezeau Bay since 1950. Between 1982 and 1987, the town withdrew an average of 0.82 x 106 m3 per year (Alta. Envir. n.d.[f]).

The estimated residence time of water in Moose Lake is 7.5 years. Because the major inlet and outlet are near each other on Franchere Bay, it is likely that the actual exchange of most water in the lake takes longer.

Water Quality

The water quality of Moose Lake was studied in 1973 and 1974 by researchers at the University of Alberta (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]; Gallup 1977), and has been studied since 1983 under a joint monitoring program by Alberta Environment and Alberta Recreation and Parks (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]; 1989). As well, Vezeau Bay was studied in 1980 and 1981 by Alberta Environment (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]).

Moose Lake is well-buffered, and has a fairly high level of total dissolved solids for a freshwater lake (TABLE 3). Its water is very hard; the dominant ions are bicarbonate, sulfate and sodium. The lake's transparency is often poor because of dense algal growth.

During summer, the shallow, exposed areas of the lake are usually well-mixed from the surface of the lake to the bottom (FIGURE 5). Deeper areas are weakly thermally stratified, but this may be disrupted during strong winds. Vezeau Bay is strongly stratified for most of the open-water period. On days when the lake is well-mixed, the concentration of dissolved oxygen in shallow areas probably remains high throughout the water column, as on 13 August 1987 (FIGURE 5). During thermally stratified periods in deeper areas and in Vezeau Bay, anoxic conditions develop above the bottom sediments, as on 31 July 1986. Throughout winter, there is a general decline in the levels of dissolved oxygen, but the lake is not known to winterkill.

The high concentrations of nutrients and chlorophyll a indicate that the lake is eutrophic (TABLE 4). The average concentration of chlorophyll a varies considerably from year to year; between 1983 and 1988, it ranged from a low of 12.5 µg/L in 1985 to a high of 21.5 µg/L in 1987. High variability is often characteristic of eutrophic lakes, and there is no indication that the water quality of Moose Lake is changing. Most phosphorus in the lake originates either from runoff from the drainage basin (TABLE 5) or from the bottom sediments. The extensive areas of cleared and agricultural land in the drainage basin contribute an estimated 56% of the external phosphorus load; the internal load, which may be substantial, has not been estimated.

The seasonal pattern of phosphorus and chlorophyll concentrations in Moose Lake is characteristic of many shallow, eutrophic lakes in Alberta (FIGURE 6). Both trophic indicators are lowest in June and reach maximum levels by late summer. A small spring peak of chlorophyll probably occurs in May when diatoms are abundant. The phosphorus maximum in late summer is typical of lakes with large internal phosphorus loads.

Biological Characteristics


There have been no extensive studies of the phytoplankton in Moose Lake. Fish and Wildlife Division briefly surveyed the phytoplankton in midsummer 1967 (McDonald 1967). Blue-green (Anabaena sp.) and green algae were most abundant.

The aquatic vegetation of Moose Lake has not been surveyed in detail. The sandy shoreline restricts emergent growth except in protected areas. Aquatic vegetation is dense along the provincial park peninsula, near the origin of the Mooselake River, the southern side of Bonnyville Beach Bay and in Island Bay (Runge 1977). The macrophyte species in the lake are typical of many lakes in Alberta: common cattails (Typha latifolia) and bulrush (Scirpus sp.) are the dominant emergent types, and pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.) and northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens) are the most common submergent types (McGregor 1983).


The zooplankton of Moose Lake was sampled by Fish and Wildlife Division in 1967, and the benthic invertebrate fauna was sampled in July 1966 (McDonald 1967). The zooplankton was dominated by copepods (Cyclops sp.) and cladocerans (Daphnia sp). Benthic invertebrates were collected in four 15-cm Ekman dredge hauls taken at each of 25 random locations between depths of 1.8 and 17 m. Sand was the predominant substrate type; it was covered by various amounts of silt, shells and detritus. There was an average of 2,720 organisms/m2, which comprised a volume of 60.8 cm3. Organisms were most abundant in the littoral zone; no organisms were present in the samples from 15-and 17-m depths. Scuds (Amphipoda) were most abundant in the shallowest areas (less than 3-m deep), whereas midge larvae (Diptera: Chironomidae) were most abundant at depths greater than 5 m. Other organisms collected were clams (Pelecypoda), snails (Gastropoda), leeches (Hirudinea), caddis fly larvae (Trichoptera), flatworms (Turbellaria) and aquatic earthworms (Oligochaeta).


Moose Lake is very productive habitat for fish, and supports large stocks of cisco, lake whitefish, walleye, yellow perch and northern pike. Other species of fish in the lake are brook stickleback, burbot, Iowa darter, spottail shiner and white sucker (McDonald 1967).

Seine samples taken during a Fish and Wildlife Division survey in 1967 indicated large numbers of yellow perch and spottail shiners near shore. Walleye were the most abundant fish caught by gill netting in deeper water, followed by cisco, northern pike, white suckers, lake whitefish, burbot and yellow perch (McDonald 1967).

Northern pike and yellow perch spawn in macrophyte beds in the Thinlake and Mooselake rivers, in Island Bay and in small reed beds on the south and east sides of Moose Lake Provincial Park. Lake whitefish and walleye spawn in sandy locations offshore of Bonnyville Beach Bay and near some of the islands in Island Bay. Walleye also spawn in the Thinlake and Mooselake rivers (Runge 1977).

Moose Lake is managed for commercial, domestic and recreational fisheries. A commercial fishery has operated since the early 1900s, but records are available only for the period since 1942 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The commercial season opens after ice breakup in May. Cisco were very abundant in the catch before 1970/71, but changes in commercial net sizes reduced the catches of cisco, northern pike and walleye, so now the catch is dominated by lake whitefish (Runge 1977). Between 1968/69 and 1987/88, the average annual harvests of commercially important species were 9,672 kg of lake whitefish, 3,410 kg of cisco, 462 kg of walleye and 444 kg of northern pike, an average total annual harvest of 13,987 kg. The maximum recorded annual harvests for each species during this period were 19,177 kg of lake whitefish (1977/78), 24,802 kg of cisco (1969/70), 1,814 kg of walleye (1970/71), and 1,589 kg of northern pike (1970/71). There are no catch data for the domestic fishery, but an average of 67 licences were issued between 1984/85 and 1988/89 (Walker 1989).

Sport fishing is very popular at Moose Lake. The main species caught are yellow perch, northern pike and walleye. A creel survey conducted during 1986 indicated that the most numerous species harvested was yellow perch, followed by northern pike and walleye (TABLE 6). The catch of these species was considerably higher than the harvest: 60% of the perch, 35% of the pike and 18% of the walleye caught were released. The harvest of yellow perch was higher in Moose Lake (0.39 fish/angler-hour) than in 19 other lakes surveyed in the region (0.32 fish/angler-hour), but the harvest rates for walleye (0.10 fish/angler-hour) and northern pike (0.22 fish/angler-hour) were the same as those in the other lakes.


Good waterfowl habitat is present on Moose Lake, especially in Island Bay. Common species of waterfowl include Mallard, Lesser Scaup, American Widgeon and Blue-winged Teal (Rippon 1983). In 1977, Red-breasted Mergansers were reported to nest along the Mooselake River and Western Grebes and Common Loons frequented the lake (Runge 1977). Great Blue Herons nested on islands in Island Bay in the 1970s, but the colony is no longer active. Gulls are commonly seen around the lake, and the White Pelican is a prominent species seen feeding there. The main limitations to waterfowl are the scarcity of emergent aquatic vegetation around much of the lake, except for Island Bay, and the high level of recreational development (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.).

P.A. Mitchell and L. Hart Buckland-Nicks


Alberta Environment. n.d.[a]. Devel. Op. Div., Constr. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[b]. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[c]. Records Mgt. Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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

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

-----. n.d.[f]. Water Resour. Admin. Div., Water Rights Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1983. Cold Lake-Beaver River water management study, Vol. 1: Main report. Plan. Div., Edmonton.

-----. 1989. Moose Lake. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br., Edmonton. Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife. n.d. Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1987. A summary of Alberta's natural areas reserved and established. Pub. Ld. Div., Ld. Mgt. Devel. Br. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

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

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

Alberta Hotel Association. 1989. Alberta campground guide 1989. Prep. for Travel

Alberta Municipal Affairs. 1977. Moose Lake management study. Plan. Serv. Div., Reg. Plan. Sec., Edmonton.

-----. 1978. Cold Lake regional plan, heritage preservation: Heritage resources background paper. Reg. Plan. Sec., Edmonton.

-----. 1979. Moose Lake area structure plan. Plan. Serv. Div., Reg. Plan. Sec., Edmonton.

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

Alberta Recreation and Parks. n.d. Parks Div. Unpubl. data, 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.

Ducks Unlimited (Canada). n.d. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. 1974, 1981. National topographic series 1:250 000 73E (1974), 73L (1981). 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.

Gallup, D.N. 1977. The limnology of Moose Lake. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

Geographic Board of Canada. 1928. Place-names of Alberta. Dept. Interior, Ottawa.

Glendon Historical Society. 1985. So soon forgotten-a history of Glendon and districts. Glendon Hist. Soc., Glendon.

Hockridge, R. 1988. Alta. Agric., Bonnyville. Pers. comm.

Kocaoglu, S.S. 1975. Reconnaissance soil survey of the Sand River area. Alta. Soil Surv. Rep. No. 34, Univ. Alta. Bull. No. SS-15, Alta. Inst. Pedol. Rep. No. S-74-34 1975. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Marshall Macklin Monaghan Western Limited. 1983. Water based recreation [Appendix J]. In Cold Lake-Beaver River water management study, Vol. 6: Recreation. Alta. Envir., Plan. Div., Edmonton.

McDonald, D. 1967. Moose Lake. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

McGregor, C.A. 1983. Summary [Appendix K] and Detailed report [Appendix L]. In Cold Lake-Beaver River water management study, Vol. 7: Ecological inventory of lake shorelines. Alta. Envir., Plan. Div., Edmonton.

Mitchell, P.A. 1982. Evaluation of the "septic snooper" on Wabamun and Pigeon lakes. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Water Qlty. Contr. Br., Edmonton.

Rippon, B. 1983. Water related wildlife resources [Appendix I]. In Cold Lake-Beaver River water management study, Vol. 5: Fisheries and wildlife. Alta. Envir., Plan. Div., Edmonton.

Runge, R. 1977. Moose Lake management study. Alta. Mun. Aff., Plan. Serv. Div., Plan. Br., Edmonton.

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

Walker, G. 1989. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., St. Paul. Pers. comm. Alta., Edmonton.