Wolf Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets73L/10, 11
Lat / Long54.6833333, -110.9500000
54°40'N, 110°57'W
Area31.5 km2
Max depth38.3 m
Mean depth9.2 m
Dr. Basin Area693 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinBeaver River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusMesotrophic
TP x25 µg/L
CHLORO x7.9 µg/L
TDS x165 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Wolf Lake is a beautiful wilderness lake located in improvement District No. 18 just south of the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range (FIGURE 1). It is popular for its northern pike and walleye fishery, low-density campground and minimal boat traffic. The lake is situated approximately 70 km north of the town of Bonnyville and 310 km northeast of the city of Edmonton. To reach the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 28 northeast to Bonnyville, then Highway 41 north to the hamlet of La Corey. Drive west on Highway 55 until you are 5.5 km west of the hamlet of Iron River, then turn north onto an all weather road that eventually winds its way to Wolf Lake. Occasional signs along this road point the way to Wolf Lake Forest Recreation Area on the south shore of the lake (FIGURE 2).

The lake's name is a translation from the Cree Mahikan Sakhahegan. In 1911, wolves near the lake were reported to have chased a fur-buyer's sleigh for quite a distance (Chipeniuk 1975). During the 1980s, wolves were still resident in the area.

The Wolf Lake Métis Settlement was created around 1940 to provide Metis trappers with a central area in which to live. The settlement was near traditional trapping grounds as well as local villages and schools. In 1953, the federal government established the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range north of Wolf Lake and the Métis lost their traplines in that area. They turned to logging for a source of income, but by the early 1960s, most of the marketable timber had been removed. The settlement disbanded at that time and many people moved to the Cold Lake area (Chipeniuk 1975).

A road to the lake was built in 1963 by the Department of Lands and Forests. A campground, Wolf Lake Forest Recreation Area, is located on the south shore (FIGURE 2). It is open from 1 May to 30 September and provides 64 campsites, pump water, a sewage disposal facility, a boat launch and a sandy beach. The campground is heavily forested and has been left, as much as possible, in its natural state. There is no defined swimming area and no day-use area, but day-users are welcome to use the facilities at a campsite. Fishing, camping, swimming, sightseeing and relaxing are the most popular activities at the lake and motor boating, water skiing, canoeing and picnicking are enjoyed as well. There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas such as the swimming area, all boats are prohibited (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). Fall and winter recreational use of the area is limited to moose hunting, snowmobiling and ice fishing (Marshall Macklin Monaghan West. Ltd. 1983).

The average concentrations of algae in Wolf Lake are quite low, but the water turns green in early spring and midsummer. Large areas of dense aquatic vegetation are present in some parts of the lake, whereas other areas support a low density of plants. In addition to the popular sport fishery for walleye and northern pike, a commercial fishery and a small domestic fishery operate on the lake. Wolf Lake and its tributary streams are closed to fishing during April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin of Wolf Lake is 22 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Most of the watershed is located northeast of the lake and is drained by the Wolf River, which flows into the northwest basin of the lake (FIGURE 1). Three smaller streams, one of which drains Sinclair Lake, flow into the northeast basin. As well, nearby Corner Lake flows into the southeast part of Wolf Lake via a short stream, and Lane Lake is joined to the central basin by a wetland area during periods of high water. The outlet, the Wolf River, flows east to the Sand River, which eventually joins the Beaver River.

The soils around Wolf Lake were described in 1975, except for the portion of the watershed that lies within the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range (Kocaoglu 1975). The watershed is part of a land unit called rolling morainal plain. The undulating to gently rolling landscape features minor ridges and knobs intermixed with many wet depressions and small peat bogs. The predominant soils are Orthic Gray Luvisols. These moderately well-drained soils, which formed on fine-loamy, moderately to strongly calcareous glacial till, are located on the upper and middle portions of slopes. Large areas of poorly drained Organic soils (Fibrisols, Humisols and Mesisols) are located in low-lying depressions and drainageways in the eastern and southeastern parts of the watershed, and between Lane Lake and the central basin of Wolf Lake.

Wolf Lake is located in the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The dominant trees on moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols are trembling aspen and balsam poplar. Jack pine grows on rapidly to well-drained Eutric Brunisols, and in moister locations, white spruce grows on imperfectly drained Gray Luvisols and Gleysols. In wet areas, black spruce and willows grow on poorly drained Organics and Gleysols, and sedges grow on very poorly drained Organics.

All of the land in the drainage basin is owned by the federal or provincial governments. Access to the federal land is restricted. Portions of the provincial land are leased to the oil industry or for grazing, which is the only agricultural activity in the watershed. A provincial grazing reserve is located near Marguerite Lake, and individual parcels of land in the watershed are leased for grazing as well. The shoreline of Wolf Lake is undeveloped except for the 1.5-km section at the recreation area. BP Canada Inc. and Petro-Canada hold approximately 30,000 ha of oil sands leases in the watershed. The leased area is bounded by Marguerite Lake to the south, the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range to the north, Sinclair Lake to the east, and Wolf Lake to the west (BP Can. Inc. 1985). The first three wells were drilled in 1964 and a pilot project was started later that year. Since 1982, a commercial project, Wolf Lake Phase I, has been operating. Expansion was planned throughout the 1980s. Water for the projects is obtained from groundwater aquifers.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Wolf Lake is large (31.5 km2, TABLE 2) and has three distinct basins (FIGURE 2). The northwest basin slopes rapidly to a maximum depth of 15.5 m; most of it is deeper than 10 m. The central basin has a maximum depth of 20.5 m, but a large part of it is less than 6 m deep. The eastern basin is long and narrow and contains the deepest part of the lake. It drops off steeply to a maximum depth of about 38 m. The composition of the sediment in the littoral zone of Wolf Lake is estimated to be 30% organic/silt and 70% sand (McGregor 1983; Trew 1983).

In the early 1980s, Alberta Environment initiated studies of the Cold Lake-Beaver River Basin in order to manage the basin's water resources and to resolve concerns regarding high demand on local water supplies. A long-term plan for water resources management in the Cold Lake region was adopted by the government in October 1985 (Alta. Envir. 1985). The plan applies to the surface and ground-water resources in the Cold Lake and lower Beaver River basin and, for Wolf Lake, stipulates that below a minimum water elevation of 597.20 m, industrial withdrawals will be reduced or suspended. In the future, oil sands plants in the region will obtain their water supply from the North Saskatchewan River via a water pipeline. At present, no water withdrawals are made from Wolf Lake, but under the Cold Lake-Beaver River basin water management plan, withdrawals from Wolf Lake are limited to 0.850 x 106 m3/year. This limit could be raised to 6.30 x 106 m3/year if a control structure were constructed on the outlet to the lake.

The elevation of Wolf Lake has been monitored since 1968 (FIGURE 3). The difference between the historic minimum (597.09 m), recorded in October 1969, and the maximum (597.65 m), recorded in June 1974, is 0.56 m. A fluctuation of this size would change the lake's area by about 3.5 km2 (FIGURE 4).

Water Quality

The water quality of Wolf Lake was studied by Alberta Environment from January through October in 1981 and in March and July in 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d. [a]). The water is fresh, hard and well-buffered and the dominant ions are calcium and bicarbonate (TABLE 3).

Wolf Lake is deep and strongly thermally stratified (FIGURE 5). During spring turnover in 1981, the water column in the deepest basin did not mix to the bottom. Consequently, the concentration of dissolved oxygen was very low (less than 2 mg/L) in the deeper water during May (FIGURE 6). By late June, the hypolimnion was anoxic, and remained so throughout summer. By the end of October, the water column was isothermal but not fully saturated with dissolved oxygen. Under ice in 1981, dissolved oxygen concentrations were high at the surface and declined to 6 mg/L at the deepest sampling point (FIGURE 6). The water column was sampled only to depths of 20 to 28 m during this period, so the dissolved oxygen concentration below these depths is not known. In some years, as in March 1986, the deepest water was sampled and did become anoxic by late winter.

Wolf Lake is mesotrophic. Like many other deep lakes in Alberta, the highest concentrations of total phosphorus (45 µg/L) and chlorophyll a (13 µg/L) are present after spring and fall turnover (FIGURE 7). Except during midsummer, the water is quite clear. The average Secchi transparency in 1981 was 2.8 m, and the average concentration of chlorophyll a was 7.9 µg/L (TABLE 4).

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community was sampled by Alberta Environment on 30 July 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). The total biomass was small (1.4 mg/L dry weight). The dominant algal group, Pyrrhophyta, accounted for almost 42% of the biomass, and two species, Ceratium hirundinella and Peridinium africanum remotum, were most important. Species of blue-green algae were next in abundance; they formed 22% of the total biomass.

The macrophyte community was studied by Alberta Energy and Natural Resources in August 1981 (McGregor 1983). Plants grew mainly in the shallow central basin, particularly along the northern shore and in the southwestern bay. In this bay the zone of vegetation extended 500-1,000 m from shore. In the other two basins, large areas without vegetation were located along parts of the northern and eastern shores. Common great bulrush (Scirpus validus), an emergent species, grew in most vegetated areas. Common cattail (Typha latifolia), sedge (Carex sp.) and yellow water lily (Nuphar variegatum) were found only along the northern and southern shores of the central basin and northern reed grass (Calamagrostis inexpansa) grew in one small area along the southern shore. The most common submergent plant was northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens). Other submergent species included large-sheath pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus), whitestem pondweed (P. praelongus), P. friesii, stonewort (Chara sp.) and coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum).


No data are available for the zooplankton in Wolf Lake.

Benthic invertebrates were sampled in July 1965 (McDonald 1967) and August 1968 (Robertson 1970). In 1968, the standing crop was estimated to be 47.5 kg/ha wet weight, or 7.3 kg/ha dry weight. This figure is quite low in comparison to other lakes, such as Whitefish and Moose, in the same general area. Approximately 80% of the biomass in Wolf Lake was collected at depths of 3 m and less, where the bottom type is sand and debris. Midge larvae (Chironomidae) and scuds (Amphipoda: Gammarus and Hyalella) formed the largest portion of the biomass; below 3 m, midge larvae dominated.


Twelve species of fish have been identified in Wolf Lake: northern pike, walleye, lake whitefish, cisco, burbot, yellow perch, white sucker, longnose sucker, Iowa darter, spottail shiner, brook stickleback and ninespine stickleback (Robertson 1970; Aquat. Envir. Ltd. 1983). The lake whitefish and cisco are infested with cysts of the tapeworm Triaenophorus crassus (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The lake is managed for domestic, commercial and recreational fisheries. The size and species composition of the domestic catch is not known, but the number of licences issued for the domestic fishery is quite small: 5 in 1984/85, 8 in 1985/86 and 12 in 1986/87 (Norris 1988).

A commercial fishery has operated since at least 1942, when records were first kept (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). Northern pike, lake whitefish and walleye are the most important species harvested. Cisco, burbot and suckers are also taken. Historically, the largest total catch of all species (43,306 kg) was taken in 1965/66. Between 1980/81 and 1987/88, the total catch of whitefish, walleye, northern pike and cisco averaged 10,044 kg/year. It ranged from a low of 8,378 kg in 1983/84 to a high of 11,934 kg in 1986/87. The composition of the catch during this period was 58% whitefish, 34% northern pike, 6% walleye and 2% cisco. The size of the cisco catch has decreased sharply since the 1969/70 season. The average cisco catch between 1964/65 and 1969/70 was 18,766 kg/year; this declined sharply between 1980/81 and 1987/88 to an average of only 212 kg/year. Cisco are used as mink food, and the decline in fishing effort for cisco is the result of a declining mink ranching industry and, therefore, a decline in the demand for fish.

Sport fishing is the main activity of visitors to the lake. Anglers were surveyed during 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1988 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). In 1988, an estimated 6,149 anglers spent 14,119 hours fishing (TABLE 5). Walleye were harvested at a rate of 0.04 fish/angler-hour, which is considerably lower than the regional average of 0.10 walleye/angler-hour. The harvest rate of northern pike (0.34 fish/angler-hour), on the other hand, was higher than the regional average of 0.22 pike/angler-hour. Of the total number of fish caught, 22% of the walleye and 45% of the northern pike were released. Catches of yellow perch were incidental.


Wolf Lake and its watershed provide a wide variety of habitat types for wildlife in a relatively remote setting. The lake is diverse in depth, shoreline configuration, backshore topography and vegetation. It has several inflowing streams, and two smaller lakes, Lane and Corner, are nearby.

The most abundant waterfowl at Wolf Lake are dabbling and diving ducks, including Mallards, Widgeons, Common Goldeneye, Blue-winged Teal and Buff lehead. American Coots and Red-necked Grebes are also numerous. An interesting feature of the lake is the presence of several bird colonies. In 1981, these colonies included 145 Western Grebe nests, 20 Great Blue Heron nests, and approximately 100 Common Tern nests. As well, a pair of Ospreys and a pair of Turkey Vultures nested in the southwestern bay. Nearby Lane Lake and the marshy north shore of Wolf Lake's central basin support colonies of Eared Grebe and Common Tern (Rippon 1983).

The interspersion of wetlands with upland areas in the watershed has created prime habitat for fur-bearing species such as beaver, mink, muskrat, otter, coyote, weasel, fox, squirrel, lynx, wolf and skunk (BP Exploration Can. Ltd. 1982). In 1980 there were 9 beaver lodges and 15 muskrat houses on Wolf Lake (Rippon 1983). The area surrounding the eastern arm of the lake has been identified as a key winter range area for moose (BP Exploration Can. Ltd. 1982). The Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range provides a refuge for animals such as moose because no hunting is allowed. Other ungulates sighted in the drainage basin include white-tailed deer, mule deer, woodland caribou and elk.

M.E. Bradford


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