Cooking Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83H/6, 7
Lat / Long53.4166667, -113.0500000
53°25'N, 113°2'W
Area36.0 km2
Max depth4.6 m
Mean depth1.7 m
Dr. Basin Area158 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinNorth Saskatchewan River Basin
Camp GroundNone
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNone
Trophic StatusHyper-Eutrophic
TP x251 µg/L
CHLORO x83.4 µg/L
TDS x1,019 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Cooking Lake is a large, shallow lake located about 25 km east of the city of Edmonton in the County of Strathcona. Highway 14 skirts the southern shore and Secondary Roads 629 and 630 skirt the northern and eastern shores (FIGURE 1). The closest population centres are three hamlets-South Cooking Lake, North Cooking Lake and Collingwood Cove - located around the lakeshore.

The lake's name is a translation of the Cree opi-mi-now-wa-sioo, which means "a cooking place". The lake was a favourite Cree campground (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976; Redecop and Gilchrist 1981).

The hamlet of South Cooking Lake is the oldest settlement on Cooking Lake. In 1892, Sheriff Robertson of Edmonton set up a summer camp for his family there, and in 1893, he built a permanent cottage (Touchings 1976). In 1894, a group of Edmontonians formed a company to develop an exclusive recreation club on Koney Island, in the southwest part of the lake (FIGURE 1). By 1905, South Cooking Lake had a store and post office, and in 1909, a school. The hamlet of North Cooking Lake became an important recreation area after 1909, when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line from Edmonton was completed. Special weekend trains from Edmonton brought tourists to the north end of the lake, and passenger boats from the hamlet transported the visitors to sandy beaches on the south shore (Redecop and Gilchrist 1981). Subdivision of the shorelands and islands at the north end of the lake was rapid, and there was a large demand for cottages prior to World War I. After the war, demand continued, but at a reduced rate.

The Cooking Lake Moraine was the setting for Alberta's first conservation and reforestation projects. Most of the virgin timber had been removed from the area by the late 1890s, either by fire or by timber cutting. A particularly devastating fire in 1895 was caused by settlers clearing land. In 1899, Alberta's first forest reserve, the Cooking Lake Forest Reserve, was opened. It included all of the present-day Elk Island National Park and the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Grazing, Wildlife and Provincial Recreation Area (FIGURE 1) and extended south and west of Cooking Lake to the area around Ministik Lake. William Stephens, the province's first forest ranger, built a ranger station on the reserve in 1899, and the province's first forest fire lookout tower was constructed there in 1913. In 1910, a tree nursery was started on the shore of Cooking Lake, where the soil was sheltered by tall poplars. The nursery failed, however, when spruce and pine seeds did not germinate. In 1919, the Cooking Lake Forest Reserve also became the site of Alberta's first large-scale forest plantation (Touchings 1976).

The water in Cooking Lake is very fertile, and dense algal blooms occur from mid- to late summer. Consequently, there are few recreational facilities at the lake. In 1988, the only public facility on the lakeshore was South Cooking Lake Park, a County of Strathcona day-use area and boat launch in the hamlet of South Cooking Lake (FIGURE 2). The facilities, which include picnic tables, firepits and a picnic shelter, were to be upgraded, starting in 1989. Future plans include a concrete boat launch, a washroom/changeroom building, trail construction and cleanup of the beach area. Access to the northeast end of the lake is available in North Cooking Lake, where a small boat or canoe can be launched. Ministik Campground, which is located just south of Cooking Lake on Highway 14, is operated by Alberta Transportation and Utilities. There are 15 campsites, picnic tables, a picnic shelter and a water pump. The North Cooking Lake Natural Area is located on Secondary Road 630, just north of Cooking Lake (FIGURE 2). The land was reserved in 1961 as a wilderness area for hunting and recreation, and was established as a natural area in 1987. It features rolling moraine, ponds and wetlands, and an abundance of waterfowl. There are good opportunities for bird watching, nature observation, hiking and cross-country skiing (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1987).

The other recreational facilities at Cooking Lake include Camp Van Es and Lakeview, both located near the peninsula just east of the hamlet of South Cooking Lake (FIGURE 2). Camp Van Es is a summer camp operated by the Moravian Church. In 1988, the church received a grant to build a retreat centre at the camp. Lakeview, which is located east of Camp Van Es, was formerly a commercially operated resort that is now owned by the County of Strathcona. In 1988, part of the land was leased to the South Cooking Lake Sail Club, and members plan to build facilities there. The county will sell or lease the remaining land to a private developer.

The Cooking Lake Seaplane Base was established on Crown land on the northwest shore of the lake in 1935 (FIGURE 2). It is used for recreational and industrial air traffic. Facilities include a lodge, several buildings, and mooring wharves. An ancillary land runway operated by Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife is also part of the base (Alta. Envir. 1977).

Cooking Lake is most popular for wind surfing, sailing, power boating and bird watching. It is considered regionally significant as a breeding, moulting, staging and migration stopover area for waterfowl (Strathcona Co. 1987). There are no boating regulations specific to the lake, but general federal and provincial regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). Small freshwater invertebrates are abundant, but there are no sport fish in the lake because there is not enough oxygen to overwinter fish.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Cooking Lake's drainage basin is about 4 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). McFadden, Halfmoon and Antler lakes flow intermittently into Cooking Lake via small creeks (FIGURE 1). The outlet creek, at the east end of the lake, joins Cooking Lake to Hastings Lake during years when water levels are very high. The precise overflow elevation of Cooking Lake is not known, but water was last known to flow from the lake during the period from 1952 to the mid-1950s, when the lake reached an estimated elevation of 736.7 m (Stanley Assoc. Eng. Ltd. 1976).

The watershed, which is part of the Cooking Lake Moraine, is characterized by knob and kettle topography that gives it an undulating to rolling appearance. Numerous sloughs and peaty depressions occur throughout the area. The main soils are Orthic Gray Luvisols that developed on either glacial till or glaciolacustrine material. Secondary soils are Gray Solodized Solonetz that developed on either glaciolacustrine or residual material (Bowser et al. 1962).

The drainage basin is located within the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion. The main trees are trembling aspen and balsam poplar on moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols. Jack pine grows on rapidly drained Eutric Brunisols and white spruce grows on imperfectly drained Gleysols and Gray Luvisols. Poorly drained Organics and Gleysols support a cover of black spruce and willows, and very poorly drained Organics support a cover of sedges (Strong and Leggat 1981). Most of the soils in the drainage basin have a moderate to high capability for cultivation, grazing and pastureland (Alta. Envir. 1977), and a large portion of the land has been cleared for agriculture (FIGURE 1).

A considerable portion of the land in the watershed has been developed for country residential subdivisions. During the 1970s and 1980s, the development of subdivisions to the north, south and west of Cooking Lake increased dramatically. Development pressures originate from the population base around Edmonton. Residential developments along the shoreline of Cooking Lake are mainly situated within the hamlets of South Cooking Lake, Collingwood Cove and North Cooking Lake. The only Crown land on the lakeshore is located at the Cooking Lake Seaplane Base.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Cooking Lake has a large surface area and a shallow mean depth (TABLE 2). There are three basins separated by shallow narrows, and several large, shallow bays (FIGURE 2). The west basin had a maximum depth of about 3.0 m when the bathymetry was surveyed in 1963. The central basin is triangular in shape and had a maximum depth of about 4.6 m in that year. The very shallow northeast basin has not been surveyed, but the area and volume were estimated for TABLE 2 and Figure 4. In 1983, there were four islands in the lake (FIGURE 1). During times when water levels are lower, such as the year of the bathymetric survey, the point of land shown as Koney Island in Figure 1 becomes joined to the mainland, as in Figure 2.

Water levels were recorded from 1919 to 1922 and in 1939 and 1941, and have been recorded regularly since 1956 (FIGURE 3). An 1897 elevation of approximately 738.2 m was estimated from comments made by a long-term resident of the area. Since 1897, the lake level has declined fairly steadily. By 1919 it had fallen to about 737.4 m, and by 1951, it was estimated to have been 735.5 m. The following year, however, the level rose to an estimated 736.7 m (Stanley Assoc. Eng. Ltd. 1976). Since regular recordings began in 1956, the elevation has dropped from 736.52 m in May 1956, to the historic recorded minimum of 735.25 m in October 1971 (FIGURE 3). High runoff levels in 1974 increased the lake's elevation to 736.45 m. In 1988, the maximum elevation recorded was 736.20 m in May. Changes in the lake's area and capacity with fluctuations in elevation (up to an elevation of 736.12 m) are illustrated in Figure 4.

In 1973, Alberta Environment responded to concerns about water levels in Cooking Lake and other area lakes by initiating the Cooking Lake Area Study (Alta. Envir. 1977). The study concluded that precipitation levels had the greatest effect on the elevations of lakes in the moraine, and that changes in evaporation and runoff were also important (Stanley Assoc. Eng. Ltd. 1976; Alta. Envir. 1977). Long-term precipitation records indicated that, around 1900, area lakes were filled to their greatest recorded capacities when seasonal precipitation reached the level of a 1-in-100-year return period. This event is one that is expected to occur once every 100 years, or 1% of the time. In 1953, most lake levels in the area, including that of Cooking Lake, reached a peak when seasonal precipitation reached the level of a 1-in-50-year return period, which is expected to occur 2% of the time. Precipitation levels in 1953 were the highest recorded since 1901, and 1953 was followed by three consecutive years of higher than average rainfall. Lake levels rose again in 1974, another year of high precipitation levels. During the two periods of decline, from 1902 to 1952 and from 1953 to 1973, the elevation of Cooking Lake fell at an average rate of 6.1 cm/year (Stanley Assoc. Eng. Ltd. 1976). Since 1974, the long-term downward trend appears to have stopped, and lake levels have remained relatively stable (FIGURE 3). The Cooking Lake Area Study recommended that water level augmentation plans and lake level control structures be considered on an as-needed basis for each of the study lakes (Alta. Envir. 1977). Water level augmentation has not been implemented and therefore no control structure has been necessary for Cooking Lake, as it rarely overflows.

Water Quality

Water quality in Cooking Lake was studied by researchers with the University of Alberta in 1963 and 1964, from 1971 to 1976, and in 1981, 1983, 1986 and 1987 (Prepas et al. n.d.; Kerekes 1965; Kerekes and Nursall 1966; Gallup and Hickman 1975; Rasmussen and Gallup 1979; Prepas and Trew 1983; Bierhuizen and Prepas 1985; Marino et al. 1990). The lake was also studied by Alberta Environment in 1981 and 1987 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]).

Cooking Lake is slightly to moderately saline (TABLE 3). The water is moderately coloured and low in turbidity and the dominant ions are bicarbonate, sulphate and sodium.

The lake is very shallow, and during summer the water column warms uniformly to more than 20°C by July (FIGURE 5). The water is well-oxygenated to the bottom during the open-water season (FIGURE 6), but soon after ice formation, the bottom water becomes anoxic. In March 1976 and January 1987, the entire water column was anoxic. In 1974 and 1975, the odour of hydrogen sulphide was present from soon after ice formation until ice left the lake.

Cooking Lake is hyper-eutrophic (TABLE 4). In 1983, total phosphorus concentrations rose gradually over the summer to a high of 310 µg/L in August (FIGURE 7), likely due to release from the bottom sediments. The bottom sediments of Cooking Lake have high phosphorus concentrations (Allan and Williams 1978). Increases in the chlorophyll a concentration followed those of phosphorus, and chlorophyll a also reached a maximum in mid-August. In 1987, the average phosphorus concentration was somewhat higher than that recorded for 1983 (TABLE 4), but maximum values were very similar. Average chlorophyll a concentrations were very similar between the two years, but in 1987, the highest chlorophyll a value measured (120 µg/L) was lower than the highest measured in 1983 (147 µg/L). Although chlorophyll a concentrations are high in Cooking Lake, they would be higher if the salinity were lower.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community in Cooking Lake was studied from 1974 to 1976 and from May to August 1987 by the University of Alberta (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Prepas et al. n.d.; Hickman 1978; 1979; Marino et al. 1990). In 1987, biomass increased steadily over the study period, from 3.77 mg/L in May to 137.81 mg/L in August (TABLE 5). Diatoms (Bacillariophyta), particularly Pleurosigma sp., were the dominant group in May. The blue-green alga Aphanizomenon flos-aquae became prominent during June, then dominated the biomass for the remainder of the study period. Green algae (Chlorophyta), such as Cosmarium sp. and Scenedesmus quadricauda in June, Staurastrum sp. and a Ulothrix-type filament in July, and Staurastrum sp. and Closterium sp. in August, were also important.

Macrophytes were studied by the University of Alberta in 1963, 1975 and 1986 (Kerekes 1965; Gallup and Hickman 1975; Chambers and Prepas 1988). In 1975, a total of 13 species were identified (TABLE 6). Chambers and Prepas have developed a model, based partly on data from this lake, to predict the depth of macrophyte colonization. In Cooking Lake, this depth is estimated to be 2.4 m.


The zooplankton community was studied by the University of Alberta during 1963 and 1964 and from November 1974 to July 1976 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Kerekes 1965; Kerekes and Nursall 1966; Gallup and Hickman 1975). In both studies, vertical tows were taken; the later study used 76-µm mesh nets. Seston biomass was determined in 1963 and 1964 and zooplankton biomass was determined from 1974 to 1976. In 1975, the average zooplankton biomass for the period from May to September was 6.9 g/m3 dry weight. This was considerably higher than the biomass in nearby Hastings (1.4 g/m3) and Beaverhill (2.5 g/m3) lakes, which were sampled over a similar period in 1975. In Cooking Lake, biomass decreased between January 1975 (0.6 g/m3) and March (less than 0.1 g/m3), increased steadily until mid-August (10.5 g/m3), then declined until December (2.6 g/m3). The most frequently observed species were the copepods Diaptomus siciloides, Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi, Acanthocyclops vernalis and Eucyclops agilis; the cladocerans Daphnia pulicaria and Diaphanosoma leuctenbergianum; and the rotifers Keratella quadrata, K. cochlearis, Branchionus angularis, Filinia longiseta, F. terminalis, Polyarthra sp., Branchionus spp. and Notholca sp.

Benthic invertebrates in Cooking, Hastings and Ministik lakes were studied by the University of Alberta in July, August and September of 1963 (Kerekes 1965; Kerekes and Nursall 1966). A total of 91 samples were taken at unspecified depths. In Cooking Lake, the average biomass for the survey period was 33.23 g/m2 wet weight (TABLE 7). The greatest biomass (61.68 g/m2) was recorded in August. Midge larvae (Chironomidae) were the most important organisms on all sampling dates. On average, they formed 92% of the biomass and 83% of the total numbers. The average biomass of benthos in Cooking Lake was much smaller than the biomass in nearby Hastings Lake (63.47 g/m2), but greater than the biomass in Ministik Lake (9.85 g/m2).


There are no sport fish in Cooking Lake. In 1963, brook sticklebacks were netted in very low numbers (Kerekes 1965). Anoxic conditions during winter are the major limitation to fish survival. There probably were northern pike and yellow perch in the lake before water levels began to decline (Zelt and Glasgow 1976). These fish would have migrated upstream from nearby Hastings Lake when the creek between the two lakes was flowing.


Wildlife habitat in the Cooking Lake Moraine was evaluated in 1974 by Alberta Environment and in 1987 by the County of Strathcona (Zelt and Glasgow 1976; Griffiths 1987). Although existing forest cover and other natural features are extensive enough to provide excellent habitat for many species, agricultural and other land uses have reduced the quality of the habitat. In 1987, Cooking Lake was identified by the County of Strathcona as a provincially important waterfowl moulting, staging and breeding area. Its sheltered bays and islands provide productive breeding habitat for water-associated birds and mammals. McFadden Lake, which flows into the western shore of Cooking Lake, and Antler Lake, which flows into the northeast basin, have locally significant waterfowl and muskrat habitat. In 1974, there were estimated to be 24 beaver and 516 muskrats in Cooking Lake. The drainage basin is not considered important winter habitat for ungulates.

The presence and distribution of ducks, geese and swans on Cooking Lake was studied by the Canadian Wildlife Service during 1973 and 1974 (Kemper 1976). In comparison to other area lakes, Cooking Lake was not as important for spring migration or nesting. Dabbling ducks accounted for about 15% of all ducks sighted during the spring and early summer breeding period. Mallards were the most common dabbler; Gadwall, Widgeons, Shovellers and Pintails were seen less frequently. Diving ducks, which were the most numerous group, included Redheads, Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup and White-winged Scoters. The latter two species were most numerous. The waterfowl population remained very low until August, when ducks and geese began to arrive. Large rafts of diving ducks were observed in the centre of the lake during the moulting period from August to early September, and swans appeared in late September. Peak numbers of all three groups occurred from late September to early November.

M.E. Bradford


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