Lac Ste. Anne

The contents of this online version has not been altered or modified from the original 1990 publication. It is reasonable to assume that much of the data e.g. water levels, camp grounds/boat launches, etc. is out of date. For updated or additional information on any of the lakes in this atlas please go to Environment Alberta's water web site.

Basic Info
Map Sheets83G/9, 10
Lat / Long53.7000000, -114.4166667
53°42'N, 114°25'W
Area54.5 km2
Max depth9 m
Mean depth4.8 m
Dr. Basin Area619 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinNorth Saskatchewan River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP xWest: 44
East: 48 µg/L
CHLORO xWest: 32.7
East: 17.9 µg/L
TDS xWest: 165
East: 174 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


West of the city of Edmonton lies a large, popular recreational lake known as Lac Ste. Anne. It is a special lake for many people because of its long history and spiritual symbolism, and because of its recreational attractiveness. Located in the County of Lac Ste. Anne, it is reached easily from Edmonton: take Highway 16 west to the Highway 43 turnoff, then turn north and drive for 10 km. Take Secondary Road 633 west for 10 km to the summer village of Alberta Beach on the east end of the lake (FIGURE 1). There are access points all around the lake, but Alberta Beach is a centre of activity for most visitors on summer weekends.

The recorded history of Lac Ste. Anne goes back to 1843 when Father Jean Baptiste Thibault established a mission on the south shore where Mission Creek enters the lake. Before Father Thibault renamed the lake for his patron saint, it was called by the Cree name Manitou Sakhahigan, which means "Lake of the Spirit" (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). Long before Europeans arrived, the lake was visited by the Cree and other native people because the water was thought to have healing properties (Alta. Cult. Multicult. n.d.). Even today, native people from a wide area gather at the mission site for a few days in July to celebrate the Christian faith and bathe in the waters of Lac Ste. Anne, as they have since 1889.

The Alexis Indian Reserve 133 is located on the northwest shore of the lake. The Alexis Band of Stoney Indians settled on their traditional hunting grounds at Lac Ste. Anne after Treaty No. 6 was signed in 1876 (Alta. Native Aff. 1986).

The summer village of Alberta Beach was established by the Canadian Northern Railway shortly after the turn of the century. Castle Island, at the east end of the lake, was bought by Viscount Charles de Gaze; he started building a stone castle on the island in 1890, but it was never completed. Eventually the island was subdivided and incorporated into a summer village (Alta. Beach Dist. Pioneers Archives Soc. 1982). Now there are seven summer villages and a number of subdivisions around the lakeshore (FIGURE 2).

Lac Ste. Anne becomes quite green in midsummer, but this does not deter the crowds of people who swim at the sandy beach along the east shore. Fishing for northern pike, lake whitefish, walleye and yellow perch is an equally popular activity. Lac Ste. Anne, all inlet streams and the outlet are closed to fishing during designated periods in spring (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Since about 1986, a popular and productive winter sport fishery for perch has developed, and perch up to 0.7 kg have been caught (Watters 1989). The lake supports commercial and domestic fisheries as well as the sport fishery.

Other activities include sightseeing, power boating, sailing, water skiing and wind surfing in summer, and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in winter. Large boats may be launched at Alberta Beach and at the narrows, and there are several other boat access points around the shore (FIGURE 2). In posted areas, all boats are prohibited, or power-driven boats are subject to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Camping facilities at Lac Ste. Anne include two public campgrounds and several commercial campgrounds. The public campground at Alberta Beach is operated by the summer village and has a beach, a public boat launch, boat rentals, a concession, flush toilets and showers, with 80 serviced campsites and about 20 unserviced campsites. It is open from mid-May to the end of September. An Alberta Transportation and Utilities campground is located along Highway 43 near the hamlet of Gunn (FIGURE 2); it has pump water, a kitchen shelter and 25 campsites. A grocery store and other consumer services are located at Alberta Beach and at Gunn. Also near Gunn is a University of Alberta biological station. A large area of Crown land south of the narrows and an area south of Horse Island at the west end are reserved for a provincial park, but as of 1989, the park was still in the planning stage.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin of Lac Ste. Anne is more than 11 times larger than the area of the lake and includes Isle and Birch lakes (Tables 1, 2; FIGURE 1). The main inlet is the Sturgeon River, which flows from Isle Lake into the southwestern arm at the west end of Lac Ste. Anne. Other inflowing creeks are small and flow only intermittently. The outflow is the Sturgeon River, which leaves the lake at the eastern end, north of Alberta Beach. The Sturgeon River eventually flows into Big Lake and the North Saskatchewan River.

The terrain in the drainage basin is undulating to strongly rolling, typical of hummocky moraine. The dominant soils are Orthic Gray Luvisols that developed on medium-textured to moderately fine-textured glacial till. These soils have severe or very severe limitations for agriculture. Soils presently under cultivation are Dark Gray Luvisols, which have less severe limitations for agriculture. Sand lenses occur throughout the watershed, and beach sands are present at the east end of the lake and at a few other areas along the shoreline (Macyk and Veauvy 1977).

The vegetation in the watershed is typical of the region. Trembling aspen grows on higher ground, and balsam poplar grows near the lakeshore. In 1971, 46% of the land surrounding Lac Ste. Anne was forested, mostly with deciduous mixed forest. Willow and black spruce grew in wet areas, and there were small areas of coniferous-dominated forest (Renewable Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1971). Air photos taken in the 1980s show a similar percentage of forested land.

Crops grown within the basin include canola, peas, oats and barley on the land east and south of the east basin, and hay and pasture in the western and northern parts of the watershed (Olson 1988). A small portion of TransAlta Utilities' Whitewood coal mine extends into the southern part of the basin. Cottage development around the shoreline, with over 2,000 cottages, is dense compared to that around most Alberta lakes.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Lac Ste. Anne is made up of two basins connected by a narrow passage, which is spanned by a bridge. The east basin is about 9.5-km long and contains the deepest water (9 m; FIGURE 2). The west basin is smaller and has a maximum depth of 6 m. The narrow, coiled, sloughlike southwestern arm was not sounded when the bathymetric survey was made, but it is very shallow, perhaps only a metre or so in depth. Lac Ste. Anne is about 15-km long including the southwestern arm, and 7-km wide at its widest point. In both basins, the bottom slopes gradually toward the centre; in the west basin the slope is fairly steep in the area of Farming Island.

A rock-and-timber weir was built on the outlet in 1951 by the provincial government (Card 1969), but since then it has been partially removed. The downstream channel controls the level of the lake, but the weir does help to maintain minimum lake levels.

Water levels have been recorded since 1933 (FIGURE 3). The average water level increased very slightly after the weir was built. The level has fluctuated between elevations of 721.99 m in 1939 and 723.79 m in 1974, a difference of 1.8 m. Between 1980 and 1987, however, the level has varied by only 0.57 m. Because the lake bottom slopes gradually, a small change in water level results in a relatively large change in surface area (FIGURE 4).

Water Quality

Lac Ste. Anne was sampled monthly in 1984 and 1985 by Alberta Environment (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; 1989) and weekly during the summer of 1988 by Alberta Environment and volunteer citizens from several summer villages on the lakeshore (Nelson and Mitchell 1988).

Lac Ste. Anne is a freshwater lake (TABLE 3); total dissolved solids are low, and the dominant ions are bicarbonate and calcium. Concentrations of most major ions are slightly lower in the west basin than in the east basin.

The water column in both basins mixes periodically throughout the summer, but on calm days the lake may thermally stratify, as occurred at the beginning of August 1984 (FIGURE 5). This results in rapid oxygen depletion at the bottom, so that at times the water over the sediments is anoxic (FIGURE 6). In winter, oxygen depletion in the west basin is rapid. In January 1985, the deepest water in both basins was anoxic, but the dissolved oxygen concentration at the surface in the east basin was almost twice that in the west basin.

Lac Ste. Anne is eutrophic. As algal blooms proliferate in late summer, the water becomes turbid with algae, and Secchi depths decline (FIGURE 7). The west basin generally has higher concentrations of chlorophyll a (TABLE 4) than the east basin, although in 1984, average phosphorus levels were similar. Total phosphorus concentrations in the east basin peaked in late August (FIGURE 7). The source of much of this nutrient is the bottom sediments, which typically release phosphorus as the water warms and bacterial activity reduces oxygen levels at the bottom of the lake. In 1984, the internal load was estimated to exceed 6,000 kg of total phosphorus, which is nearly equivalent to the phosphorus supply from external sources (TABLE 5). The large total supply from internal and external sources results in a highly productive lake.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton of Lac Ste. Anne was assessed during the Alberta Environment water quality study in 1984 and 1985 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). Two or three species of Anabaena, a blue-green alga, were dominant in late summer in both 1984 and 1985. In July 1984, A. planktonica was the most abundant species in the east basin (TABLE 6), whereas A. spiroides and A. flos-aquae were the most abundant species in the west basin. Diatoms were prevalent in spring and fall both years; Stephanodiscus niagarae and Melosira granulata were important species. The species composition of phytoplankton in the two basins was generally similar in summer 1984 and 1985, except that there were large blooms of the diatom S. niagarae in the west basin but not in the east basin; the total biomass was greater in the west basin on most sampling dates.

Emergent aquatic vegetation was surveyed as part of a 1971 wildlife and fisheries study in the Sturgeon River basin (Renewable Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1971). In the shallow southwestern arm of the west basin, common cattail (Typha latifolia) and sedge (Carex sp.) were by far the most abundant types of plants along the shore and only about 2% of the shoreline was devoid of vegetation. Submergent vegetation was sparse in this area, although duckweed (Lemna sp.) was common. In the main part of the west basin, bulrush (Scirpus sp.) was more abundant than in shallow areas to the west, and submergent species were abundant. In the main basin, 63% of the shoreline was occupied by bulrush, and bur-reed (Sparganium sp.) was also abundant. Submergent species present were those typical of many lakes in the area: various species of pondweed (Potamogeton spp.), northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum ex-albescens), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum) and duckweed (Lemna sp.).


There are no recent data on the zooplankton of Lac Ste. Anne. A fisheries study in 1969 (Lane 1971) included identification to genus and an estimate of abundance; the genera found (Daphnia, Cyclops and Diaptomus) are typical of many other lakes in the area.

Benthic invertebrate samples were collected in 1969 (TABLE 7) from several depths and substrate types (Lane 1971). The amphipods Hyalella azteca and Gammarus lacustris were abundant over sandy substrates in the east basin at depths of less than 4 m. These species were much less abundant in west basin samples, perhaps because the substrate is clay or silt even in shallow water. Amphipods formed the largest percentage of organisms in whitefish stomachs assessed during the same study. Midge larvae (Chironomidae) were numerically dominant and were found on fine-grained substrates to the maximum depth in both basins. The phantom midge Chaoborus sp. accounted for 18% of the average total number of organisms in west basin samples, but was rare in east basin samples.


The game fish in Lac Ste. Anne include northern pike, walleye, yellow perch and lake whitefish; other species in the lake include white sucker, burbot, spottail shiner and brook stickleback (Lane 1971). Fish and Wildlife Division manages Lac Ste. Anne for sport, commercial and domestic fishing. Sport fishing is very popular, largely because the lake is so close to Edmonton.

The fisheries resources of Lac Ste. Anne were surveyed in 1969 (Lane 1971). For a series of 18-to 24-hour test nettings during June to August, the average total catch of fish per 275 m of net was 93.3 fish, weighing a total of 72 kg. The average total number of lake whitefish, perch and walleye caught in the east basin was 43% greater than in the west basin. The average total annual harvest of fish until 1969 (number of years not provided) was estimated at 56,700 kg for the sport, commercial and domestic fisheries combined. Fifty percent were whitefish, 40% were pike and 10% were walleye. The sport fishery accounted for about half of the total harvest. Perch were considered unimportant except as a food base for pike and walleye.

Between 1982 and 1988, the average annual commercial harvest was 21,762 kg for whitefish, 3,188 kg for northern pike and 281 kg for walleye. The annual harvest varied little over these years. There is no information on harvest by the domestic fishery (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

An intensive creel survey was conducted at Alberta Beach between 15 May and 31 August 1984 to assess the magnitude of the sport fish harvest (TABLE 8). It was estimated that the total walleye harvest was 3,360 fish (2,856 kg) including 1,440 fish caught during a fishing derby. The harvest per unit effort for walleye was 0.12/angler-hour for the entire summer; it was highest in May (0.31 /angler-hour) and nil in July and August. In comparison, the harvest per unit effort for walleye in 21 lakes in northern Alberta between 1984 and 1988 was 0.09/angler-hour (Sullivan 1988). The total northern pike harvest, including fish caught during the derby, was 6,700 pike (6,400 kg). The pike catch rate over the entire survey period was 0.40/angler-hour and the harvest rate was 0.21/angler-hour, in comparison to a harvest rate of 0.23 for the 21 lakes surveyed between 1984 and 1988. The catch per unit effort in 1984 was highest in late May and lowest in early August. Only 26 yellow perch and 4 lake whitefish were observed harvested during the survey period; whitefish are caught more frequently in winter and early spring than in summer.

Researchers at the University of Alberta biological station at Lac Ste. Anne have studied the environmental physiology of fish in the lake for many years (Mackay 1989). Over 50 research papers and theses have been produced, including such topics as the activity and feeding patterns of northern pike (Diana et al. 1977; Diana 1979; 1980), aging techniques and growth in yellow perch (Norris 1984), food and distribution of yellow perch and walleye (Langer 1974) and growth and reproductive success in burbot (Boag 1989). These studies have shown that feeding activity in northern pike is greatest in late May and June as water temperatures are increasing and spawning is completed. Pike are inactive more than 90% of the time, but they move extensively in the lake during periods of activity, and may move a kilometre or more in a day. Low water temperatures do not slow their movement, but do decrease their feeding. Perch in Lac Ste. Anne are slow-growing and short-lived, and may become stunted unless predation (by anglers or natural predators like pike) is high. In the early 1980s, the perch population showed all the characteristics of stunting: slow growth, high mortality and early sexual maturity at a small size. But in later years there seemed to be a change in the population because anglers were catching larger perch again.


The wildlife of Lac Ste. Anne was studied in 1971 as part of a wildlife and fisheries study in the Sturgeon River basin (Renewable Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1971). A total of 1,394 dabbling and diving ducks were observed during a 1-week boat survey in May. The majority of breeding birds were Mallards, American Widgeon and Blue-winged Teal. Diving ducks such as Lesser Scaup and Common Goldeneye were much less abundant than dabbling ducks. The main basin had higher numbers of pairs and broods than the areas west of the narrows. It was suggested that the solid band of cattail in the far western section was less favourable habitat than the bulrush and bur-reed emergent vegetation in the eastern basin. Other species of water birds observed during the study included Western, Red-necked, Eared and Horned grebes, American Coot and Great Blue Heron. There were two nesting colonies of Western Grebes on the lake.

Beaver, muskrats and mink are present in the Lac Ste. Anne area, and the habitat is suitable for white-tailed and mule deer and moose (Renewable Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1971).

P.A. Mitchell


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Boag, T.D. 1989. Aspects of growth and fecundity in burbot, Lota Iota L., from two Alberta lakes. MSc thesis. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Card, J.R. 1969. Lake level stabilization Lac Ste. Anne: Consideration of simple outlet control structure. Alta. Envir., Water Resour. Div., Edmonton.

Diana, J.S. 1979. An energy budget for northern pike (Esox lucius) in Lac Ste. Anne. PhD thesis. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

-----. 1980. Diel activity pattern and swimming speeds in northern pike (Esox lucius) in Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 37:1454-1458.

-----, W.C. Mackay and M. Ehrman. 1977. Movements and habitat preference of northern pike (Esox lucius) in Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 106:560-565.

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Lane, C.B. 1971. A survey of the fishery resources of Isle, Lac Ste. Anne and Matchayaw or Devil's Lake, 1969. Alta. Ld. For., Fish Wild. Div., Surv. Rep. No. 14, Edmonton.

Langer, O.E. 1974. Seasonal variation of food, mouth anatomy and distribution of adult yellow perch (Perca fluviatilis flavescens) and yellow walleye (Stizostedion vitreum vitreum) in Lac Ste. Anne. MSc thesis. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Mackay, W.C. 1989. Univ. Alta., Dept. Zool., Edmonton. Pers. comm.

Macyk, T.M. and C.F. Veauvy .1977. Detailed soil survey of the Lac Ste. Anne area. Alta. Inst. Pedol. Rep. No. M-77-9. Alta. Res. Counc., 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.

Nelson, L.R. and P.A. Mitchell. 1988. Volunteer citizen's lake monitoring program (1988) - Lac Ste. Anne and Pigeon Lakes. Alta. Envir., Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br., Edmonton.

Norris, H.J. 1984. A comparison of aging techniques and growth of yellow perch (Perca flavescens) from selected Alberta lakes. MSc thesis. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Olson, M. 1988. Alta. Agric., Sangudo Dist. Off., Sangudo. Pers. comm.

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Sullivan, M.G. 1986. Characteristics and impact of the sports fishery at Lac Ste. Anne during May-August 1984. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

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

Watters, D. 1989. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Edm. Reg. Off., Edmonton. Pers. comm.