Muriel Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets73L/2
Lat / Long54.1333333, -110.6833333
54°7'N, 110°40'W
Area64.1 km2
Max depth10.7 m
Mean depth6.6 m
Dr. Basin Area384 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinBeaver River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusMesotrophic
TP x36 µg/L
CHLORO x6.7 µg/L
TDS x753 mg/L
Photo credit: D. LeClair


Muriel Lake is a large lake with lovely beaches and fairly clear water. It is located in the Municipal District of Bonnyville about 13 km south of the town of Bonnyville and 250 km northeast of the city of Edmonton. To reach the lake from Edmonton, take Highways 28 and 28A north and east to Bonnyville. At the junction of Highways 28 and 41 within the town (55 Street), turn south onto a road known locally as the Gurneyville Road. This road joins Secondary Road 657 just south of the locality of Gurneyville, on the western side of the lake (FIGURE 1), and provides access to Muriel Lake Provincial Recreation Area. An alternate route, which provides access to the eastern side of the lake and Muriel Lake Park, is to drive east through Bonnyville on Secondary Road 659 and turn south onto Secondary Road 657 at Charlotte Lake. This north-south portion of Secondary Road 657 will be renumbered to 891 in about 1990, when the road is extended south to the hamlet of Lindbergh (Campeau 1989).

The origin of Muriel Lake's name is not known. The first fur-trading post in the area was established in 1781 by the North West Company near the present-day hamlet of Beaver Crossing, about 35 km northeast of Muriel Lake. A second post, Fort Lac d'Orignal (Shaw House), was established in 1789 on the north shore of nearby Moose Lake. The first settlers came to the Bonnyville area in 1907, and a store, post office and sawmill were established about 10 km east of Bonnyville in 1908. By 1909, two schools were operating in the area (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1978). The local economy in the early 1900s was based on the timber industry, and two sawmills were located at Muriel Lake, one at the northeastern tip and the other on the large island/peninsula on the eastern shore (FIGURE 1). In the 1920s, an extensive fire destroyed the timber and the economic base switched to agriculture. The locality of Gurneyville, on the western shore, and the locality of Muriel Lake, northeast of the lake, provided post offices and general stores for local residents. At present, Gurneyville has a gas station, post office and general store, but the post office at Muriel Lake is closed and no one lives there now (Alta. Cult. Multicult. n.d.; Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979). There are several subdivisions around the lakeshore and on the backshore, mostly on the south and east sides of the lake. By 1988, almost half of the 391 registered lots had been developed (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1988). Kehiwin Indian Reserve 123 is located on 8,200 ha of land southwest of the lake. The Kehiwin Band, which was named in 1876 when Chief Kehiwin signed Treaty No. 6, are descendants of Plains Cree (Alta. Native Aff. 1986). A 1984 census recorded 900 band members.

In 1988, landowners near the lake were surveyed for the background report to the Muriel Lake Area Structure Plan review (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1988; 1989). Most respondents (87%) were concerned about water levels in the lake. Other problems cited were poor fishing (54%), shoreline weeds (31%), weeds in the lake (26%) and algae (20%). Water quality was rated, on average, as good to excellent. In a 1976 survey of cottage owners, only 17% of respondents cited poor fishing as a problem, 10% cited algal growth, and only a few people complained of weeds. Variations in the weather, and therefore, changes in the lake level and the concentration of algae, were probably responsible for the differences between the results of the two surveys. In summer, the favourite recreational activities of cottage owners in the 1976 survey were swimming, fishing, power boating, sightseeing, and water skiing. Only 25% of respondents used their cottages in winter and these people mostly went snowmobiling and ice fishing (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1976).

The largest recreational facility on Muriel Lake is Muriel Lake Park, which is operated by the Municipal District of Bonnyville. It is located on the large bay at the northeast end of the lake (FIGURE 2). Signs on Secondary Road 657 direct visitors to the area. The park is open from mid-May to mid-September and offers 105 campsites, 3 group camping areas with 36 sites, a sewage disposal station, pump water, a concession, a boat launch and dock, and a day-use area with picnic tables, a playground, a beach and a swimming area. The municipal district also owns a boat launch on the eastern shore, in Beaumieux Resort subdivision. It can be reached by a local road from Secondary Road 657. There are no boating restrictions specific to Muriel Lake, but general federal regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Alberta Recreation and Parks operates Muriel Lake Provincial Recreation Area, located on the western shore (FIGURE 2). It is open from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving Day and has 19 campsites, pump water, picnic tables, a picnic shelter, a beach and a boat launch.

There are three commercial campgrounds and two institutional camps at Muriel Lake. The institutional camps, which are located on Crown land at the northeast tip of the lake, are the Fort Kent Catholic Boys Camp and Recreation Centre, and the Lakeland Division of the Girl Guides of Canada.

The concentration of algae in Muriel Lake is quite low, and the water is usually moderately transparent. Aquatic vegetation covers an extensive area, particularly along the south and east sides of the lake, but emergent vegetation is not abundant in most areas. The species of sport fish in the lake are northern pike, yellow perch and walleye. There are no sport fishing regulations specific to the lake, but provincial limits and regulations apply. The northern pike may contain natural levels of mercury higher than levels recommended for human consumption. Pregnant women should not eat the fish, and others should not eat more than one meal of the fish per week (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). The lake also supports commercial and domestic fisheries.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Muriel Lake drains an area of 384 km2 (TABLE 1), but because of the large size of the lake (64.1 km2, TABLE 2), the ratio of drainage basin area to lake area is only 6 to 1. Most water flows into the lake from the south and east via several creeks (FIGURE 1). The largest inflow is a small creek that drains Bluet Lake and Gamier Lake to the south. The area around Sinking Lake, to the west of Muriel Lake, is considered part of the gross drainage basin, but it is unlikely that water levels are ever high enough to allow water to flow from this area into Muriel Lake. The outlet from Muriel Lake, Muriel Creek, flows intermittently from the northeastern bay to nearby Landry Lake, and eventually to the Beaver River.

The landforms in the drainage basin are quite varied. The largest area, which comprises land northwest, north, east and southeast of the lake, is rolling morainal plain (Kocaoglu 1975). It is characterized by undulating to gently rolling topography featuring minor ridges and knobs intermixed with numerous wet depressions and small peat bogs. The soils are mainly moderately well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols that developed on fine loamy glacial till. South of Secondary Road 657 lies an area of moderately rolling hummocky morainal plain, which is characterized by rough, irregular knob and kettle topography. Again, soils are mainly Orthic Gray Luvisois. The portion of the watershed that is part of Indian Reserve 123 is undulating morainal plain. It is relatively level, with occasional low ridges and knolls. The main soils in this area are well-drained Orthic Dark Gray Chernozemics that developed on fine loamy glacial till.

The drainage basin is part of the Dry Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The main tree species are trembling aspen on well-drained to moderately well-drained sites, jack pine on rapidly drained to well-drained sites, white spruce on imperfectly drained sites, and black spruce, willows and sedges on poorly to very poorly drained sites. Balsam poplar, trembling aspen, white spruce and lesser amounts of white birch and willow grow around the lakeshore (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979; McGregor 1983).

Most agricultural activity in the watershed is on land near Muriel and Sinking lakes (FIGURE 1). Grazing is the main activity, and most crops are grown for forage (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979).

Most of the lakeshore is privately owned (FIGURE 2). A large parcel of Crown land located south of the lake is covered by grazing leases or permits, but is also reserved for future recreational purposes. A provincial park on this land has been discussed, but no definite plans or approvals have been made (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979). All islands in the lake belong to the province and are reserved for recreation.

After the first subdivisions on Muriel Lake were approved in 1965, 16 lots were created on the south shore. By 1975, 337 lots were registered, of which 110 were developed. In 1977, the Muriel Lake area became subject to the Regulated Lake Shoreland Development Operation Regulations, which were administered by Alberta Environment. The regulations prohibited most developments at the lake until a lake management plan and an area structure plan were prepared and adopted by the Municipal District of Bonnyville (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979; 1980). Lake management plans determine the extent of future land developments, allocate land use and determine ways to minimize environmental impacts and conflicts in uses of the lakeshore. They recommend preferred lake uses and ways to minimize lake-user conflicts. The two plans were completed and adopted in 1980 and updated in 1989 (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1988; 1989). By 1988, 54 additional lots had been created, for a total of 391 lots within a distance of 1.5 km from the lake. By 1988, 168 of the 297 lakefront lots and 18 of the 94 backshore lots had been developed. Almost 56% of the total number of lots are located on the south side of the lake, another 40% are located on the east side, and about 4% are located at the northwest end (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1988).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Muriel Lake is a large but rather shallow water body (TABLE 2, FIGURE 2). The maximum depth of 10.7 m is located in a small hole north of the island in the southeast bay. Most of the central part of the lake basin is about 9 m deep. The basin drops off most steeply along the west-central and north-central shores. The lake has three islands, with locations and shapes that vary with water levels. When water levels are lower, as in 1962 when the bathymetry was surveyed (FIGURE 2), there are two islands in the northeast bay, a peninsula along the eastern shore, and an island in the southeast bay that has a long sand spit extending from its southeast corner. When water levels are sufficiently high, as in 1986 (FIGURE 1), the more southerly island in the northeast basin floods and the peninsula on the eastern shore becomes an island.

The shoreline consists primarily of rocks or boulders, but there are also several attractive sandy beaches (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979). The rocky shores are often accompanied by steep banks, although much of the backshore flattens out to undulating topography.

Water levels have been monitored since 1967 (FIGURE 3). The lake reached its maximum recorded level (560.43 m) in 1974, a very wet year. After 1974, water levels steadily declined to a minimum of 558.90 m in 1987. This fluctuation of 1.53 m changed the area of the lake by several square kilometres (FIGURE 4).

In the early 1980s, Alberta Environment initiated studies of the Cold Lake-Beaver River basin to provide data for management of the basin's water resources and to resolve concerns regarding high demand from oil sands plants on local water supplies. Under the longterm water management plan adopted by the government in 1985, no large withdrawals from Muriel Lake will be allowed. Oil sands plants will be required to obtain their water supply from a pipeline from the North Saskatchewan River.

Water Quality

Water quality in Muriel Lake was studied by Alberta Environment intensively during 1975, 1976, 1978 and 1988, and once in March 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Mitchell 1979). The water is well buffered, very hard and slightly saline (TABLE 3). The dominant ions are bicarbonate, sodium and sulphate.

Muriel Lake is typical of many of Alberta's shallow lakes: in spring, the water column warms rapidly; during summer, thermal stratification is weak or nonexistent; and during fall, the water column is well mixed. In 1988, the maximum surface temperature recorded was 19°C in June (FIGURE 5). Levels of dissolved oxygen were uniformly high throughout the water column during the open-water season in 1988 (FIGURE 6). Under ice in March 1986, levels of dissolved oxygen fell to less than 5 mg/L at depths greater than 5 m. Concentrations near the surface, however, remained above 10 mg/L.

Muriel Lake is mesotrophic. In 1988, the chlorophyll a concentration averaged 6.7 µg/L and levels were quite constant during the open-water period. They ranged between a maximum of 7.8 µg/L in May to a minimum of 6.1 µg/L in July (FIGURE 7). Ten years earlier, in 1978, chlorophyll a levels were slightly lower. They averaged 3.2 µg/L and varied between a minimum of 1.3 µg/L in June and a maximum of 5.7 µg/L in August. These variations between years are expected. They are often caused by changes in the weather, and do not imply a deterioration in water quality. The chlorophyll a levels in Muriel Lake are actually quite low relative to the concentration of total phosphorus, and it is possible that algal biomass in the lake is depressed by salinity. In 1988, total phosphorus reached its highest level in July (FIGURE 7) and averaged 36 µg/L over the season (TABLE 4). Phosphorus data are not available for 1978.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton in Muriel Lake was sampled briefly during July and August in 1966 (McDonald 1967) and monthly in 1976 and 1978 (Mitchell 1979). In 1976, blue-green (Cyanophyta: Lyngbya sp.) and golden-brown algae (Chrysophyta: Dinobryon sp.) were the dominant groups in May, diatoms (Bacillariophyta: Fragilaria crotonensis) and dinoflagellates (Pyrrhophyta: Ceratium hirundinella) formed most of the volume in June, and diatoms (F. crotonensis), unidentified filamentous blue-green algae, and a green alga (Chlorophyta: Closterium sp.) were prominent in late summer. The main species were similar in 1978 except that the diatom Stephanodiscus astraea and the green alga Pediastrum sculptatum formed most of the volume in June and the blue-green Anabaena sp. and the diatom Asterionella formosa were the dominant species during late summer.

Aquatic plants grew to a depth of 7 m in Muriel Lake in September 1978 and the littoral zone covered almost 50% of the lake's area. The littoral zone in some areas extended as far as 750 m from shore (Mitchell 1979). Four species of emergent plants and five species of submergent plants were identified (FIGURE 8). Emergent vegetation is largely restricted to protected areas because the lake is exposed to wind. As well, the northwest shore, although somewhat protected, has no emergent stands because of its rocky or sandy substrate. The dominant emergent species in 1978 were common great bulrush (Scirpus validus) in the water, and common cattail (Typha latifolia) and sedges (Carex spp.) closer to shore. The dominant submergent species was large-sheath pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus), and stonewort (Chara sp.) was distributed sparsely throughout the littoral area. The filamentous alga Cladophora was abundant on plants growing in water about 3-m deep.


The benthic fauna of Muriel Lake has not been surveyed in detail. The zooplankton community was examined by Alberta Environment during 1976 and 1978 (Mitchell 1979). The most abundant copepods were Diaptomus sicilis and Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi, the dominant cladocerans were Daphnia galeata mendotae and Diaphanosoma leuctenbergianum, and the dominant rotifers were Keratella cochlearis and Conochilus sp.


The fish fauna of Muriel Lake includes northern pike, walleye, lake whitefish, yellow perch, burbot, white sucker, spottail shiner, and Iowa darter. Lake whitefish were stocked in 1937 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Walleye populations have been augmented by stocking at a rate of 535 adults from Moose Lake in 1964, 58,000 9.5-cm-long juveniles in 1984, 169,000 fingerlings in 1986, and 131,500 fingerlings in 1987 (McDonald 1967; Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1984; Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1986; 1987).

Muriel Lake is managed for domestic, commercial and sport fisheries. There are no data available for the domestic fishery. The primary commercial species is lake whitefish, which generally has formed about 95% of the total catch (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The largest whitefish catch was 109,150 kg, taken in the 1957/58 season. The average whitefish catch from 1942/43 to 1963/64 was 40,000 kg/year. The whitefish population began to show signs of overexploitation by 1964/65, when the catch declined to 7,500 kg. From 1965/66 to 1974/75, the average catch was 25,000 kg/year. Catch size increased in 1975/76 to 40,460 kg, but declined again from 1976/77 to 1981/82, to an average of 20,870 kg/year. In 1982/83, the whitefish catch declined to less than 10,000 kg, and from 1983/84 to 1986/87, the catch and effort were greatly reduced. During the latter period, fewer than 20 licences were issued each year and the annual whitefish catch ranged from 263 to 13,223 kg. In 1987/88, only seven licences were issued, but the whitefish catch increased to 22,347 kg.

Small numbers of northern pike have always been caught in the commercial fishery. The largest catch was 6,810 kg in 1949/50 and the average catch from 1942/43 to 1987/88 was 1,230 kg/year. Catches were lower than average during the period from 1983/84 to 1987/88, at only 565 kg/year.

Walleye are seldom caught by the commercial fishery. The historic maximum catch was 636 kg in 1945/46 and none were reported from 1946/47 to 1966/67. The average catch from 1980/81 to 1987/88 was 12 kg/year.

The sport fishery was evaluated by a creel survey conducted from 17 May to 27 August 1986 (TABLE 5). An estimated 5,872 anglers fished for 10,762 hours. Anglers caught an average of 0.57 pike/angler-hour, but released 38% of their catch, resulting in a harvest rate of 0.33 pike/angler-hour. This rate was higher than the average harvest rate of 0.22 pike/angler-hour reported for 22 lakes in the area (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Anglers caught yellow perch at a rate of 0.18 perch/angler-hour, but since they released 62% of their catch, the harvest rate was only 0.07/angler-hour. This rate was substantially below the average harvest rate for the area of 0.32 perch/angler-hour. No lake whitefish or walleye were reported in the catch. It is not known from these data whether the walleye stocking program increased walleye abundance, because the fish stocked in 1984 were too small for anglers in 1986. Rough water, caused by the large surface area exposed to strong winds, reduces the number of opportunities to fish in Muriel Lake.


High quality waterfowl habitat constitutes only 10% of the shoreland around Muriel Lake. Much of the best habitat is located at nearby Landry Lake (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979; 1988). A colony of Western Grebes and 20 to 25 pairs of Common Loons nest on Muriel Lake. There were 12 Great Blue Heron nests in 1975, but none were seen in 1988. White Pelicans use the lake for feeding and California and Ring-billed gulls are common on or near the southern island. White-tailed deer are common around the lake, as are moose on the eastern shore.

M.E. Bradford and J.M. Hanson


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