Saskatoon Lake

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 is out of date.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 Sheets83M/3
Lat / Long55.2166667, -119.0833333
55°13'N, 119°4'W
Area7.47 km2
Max depth4 m
Mean depth2.6 m
Dr. Basin Area31.8 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinSmoky River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishRainbow Trout, Brown Trout
Trophic StatusHyper-Eutrophic
TP x728 µg/L
CHLORO x43.4 µg/L
TDS x591 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Saskatoon Lake is a medium-sized recreational lake surrounded by agricultural land. It is located in the County of Grande Prairie about 25 km west of the city of Grande Prairie and 4 km north of Highway 2. The population centre closest to the lake is the town of Wembley, about 7 km to the south. A secondary road from Highway 2 leads to Saskatoon Island Provincial Park on the lake's southern shore (FIGURE 1).

Saskatoon Lake was originally named by Indians for the saskatoon berry, which grows profusely in the park. Saskatoon means "garden of flowers" (Alta. Cult. Multicult. n.d.). The berries were a staple ingredient of pemmican, and until as recently as 1929, Indians camped each summer on the site of the present-day park to pick the berries (Finlay and Finlay 1987). Historically, Saskatoon Lake and nearby Little Lake were joined and the Indian campground was an island within the larger water body (L. Saskatoon Hist. Book Commit. 1980). Water levels began declining in the 1920s, and by the early 1960s, the island had become part of the mainland (Fairbarns et al. 1981).

The community of Saskatoon Lake was established in 1899 when a trading post was built a short distance west and north of the island (L. Saskatoon Hist. Book Commit. 1980). The location allowed the proprietor to trade with the annual gatherings of Indians. Competition soon arrived in the form of a Hudson's Bay Company post, which was built nearby and operated until 1918. The Lake Saskatoon Mission was established near the lake in 1904 but closed in 1908, when it relocated to the present-day site of Grande Prairie. The Saskatoon Lake area was surveyed between 1909 and 1911 and was opened for homesteading in 1910 (L. Saskatoon Hist. Book Commit. 1980). Local homesteaders held annual picnics on Saskatoon Island. By 1921, the community of Saskatoon Lake had 96 residents (Finlay and Finlay 1987). It was an important centre for the area until 1924, when the railway was built to the south, through Wembley. Within a decade there was little physical evidence left of the community.

Pressure from local residents to protect the berry crop on Saskatoon Island resulted in the establishment of Saskatoon Island Provincial Park in 1932 (FIGURE 2). The island was one of Alberta's first six provincial parks. In 1933, the park was designated a game refuge to protect Trumpeter Swans, which nest south of the park at Little Lake (Finlay and Finlay 1987). At present, the park provides day-use services year-round and camping services from 1 May to Thanksgiving Day. There are 96 campsites, a group camping area, sewage disposal facilities, playgrounds, tap water, picnic areas, a boat launch, a beach, a change house and a concession. A hiking trail leads to a viewing platform overlooking Little Lake. In addition to Trumpeter Swans, a major attraction in the park is the abundance of saskatoon berries. Activities at the park and on the lake include fishing year-round, camping, picnicking, motor boating, water skiing, wind surfing and swimming during summer; and cross-country skiing on groomed trails and snowshoeing in winter. There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas, either all boats are prohibited or power boats are restricted to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988[b]).

Saskatoon Lake is very fertile. Algae turn the water green in mid to late summer and aquatic macrophytes grow abundantly around the shore. The lake has a history of fish kills in winter, and by 1987 no sport fish remained. That year, a rainbow trout and eastern brook trout stocking program began. The growth rates of the fish are excellent, and the fishery is becoming a popular regional attraction. Fishing for bait fish and the use of bait fish are not allowed in Saskatoon Lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Saskatoon Lake's drainage basin is 4 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). The only defined inflow is a small creek that enters the southwest end of the lake (FIGURE 1). Additional inflow is provided by diffuse runoff, precipitation and groundwater.

The drainage basin is part of the Aspen Subregion of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The most extensive soils in the watershed are moderately well-drained Eluviated Black Chernozemics with a sandy loam to silt loam texture (Odynsky et al. 1961). These soils developed on alluvial and aeolian material and are located on undulating slopes over most of the western, northwestern and southern portions of the drainage basin. They support a vegetative cover composed primarily of trembling aspen and secondarily of white spruce, wild rose, saskatoon, buckbrush, wolf willow and rough fescue. Poorly drained Orthic Gleysols are the main soils on level and depressional land along the western shore and in the western part of the provincial park. These soils, which developed on lacustro-till or glaciolacustrine material, have a silt loam to clay loam texture and support a cover of willow. The third major soil is a moderately to imperfectly drained Dark Gray Solod, which is located throughout the eastern and northeastern portion of the drainage basin on undulating to gently rolling land. This soil developed on lacustro-till or glaciolacustrine material and has a loam to clay loam texture. Soils within Saskatoon Island Provincial Park were studied on a smaller scale in 1984 (Greenlee 1984).

Except for a treed buffer around most of the shoreline and along the inflow, most of the land in the watershed has been cleared for agriculture. The main crops grown are wheat, barley, oats, canola, pasture and hay. The provincial park encompasses one of the largest tracts of forested land in the drainage basin. A mature stand of trembling aspen and 6 large, 75-year-old white spruce are located in the park, and saskatoon bushes occupy about one-third of the total park area (Van Tighem and Wallis 1973).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Saskatoon Lake is a very shallow, medium-sized water body (TABLE 2). The maximum depth of 4 m is located in a small hole east of the centre of the basin (FIGURE 2). The shoreline substrate is predominantly organic material along the north and west shores, which are protected from the prevailing winds, and predominantly rubble along most of the south and east shores. A sandy beach is located along the south shore at the provincial park (Schroeder 1986).

Water levels were recorded from 1957 to 1959 and have been monitored regularly since 1965 (FIGURE 3). The lake's elevation was considerably lower during the late 1950s than it has been since 1965. The minimum elevation (709.27 m), recorded in September 1957, was 2.50 m lower than the maximum elevation (711.77 m), recorded in May 1977. Between 1980 and 1987, the range in water levels was 0.99 m.

Water Quality

Water quality in Saskatoon Lake was monitored by Fish and Wildlife Division in August 1985, and has been monitored jointly by Alberta Environment and Alberta Recreation and Parks since 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Schroeder 1986). As well, winter dissolved oxygen concentrations were monitored periodically by Fish and Wildlife Division in 1984, 1985 and 1986 (Schroeder 1986).

The lake water is very slightly saline, well buffered and very hard (TABLE 3). The main ions are sodium and bicarbonate. The lake is so shallow that the water column is well mixed during the open-water season (FIGURE 4). Temperature profiles were uniform from top to bottom on 22 July 1986 (18.5°C) and 8 August 1988 (15.8°C). Dissolved oxygen throughout the water column on the 1986 sampling date was lower (6.8 mg/L, FIGURE 4) than on the 1988 sampling date (10.1 mg/L). During February 1987 and 1988, dissolved oxygen concentrations were less than 6 mg/L at the surface and less than 3 mg/L on the bottom. A small number of fish died in 1988.

Saskatoon Lake is hyper-eutrophic. The maximum chlorophyll a concentrations were 60 µg/L in June and August 1986, and 113 µg/ L in September 1988, and the highest total phosphorus concentrations were 766 µg/L in August 1986 and 901 µg/L in July 1988 (FIGURE 5). Average total phosphorus concentrations during the openwater season are very high (TABLE 4). Total iron levels (TABLE 4) are similar to other lakes in the region, but higher than in most lakes in Alberta.

Biological Characteristics


Two plankton hauls were taken by Fish and Wildlife Division with an unspecified sized net on 23 August 1985 (Schroeder 1986). The blue-green alga Microcystis sp. was the most common phytoplankton species observed. An aquatic macrophyte survey, which was part of the same study, noted that an extensive band of vegetation ringed the lake except for a few exposed portions along the south shore and in the northwest bay. The northeast bay was not surveyed (FIGURE 6). The two emergent species identified-bulrush (Scirpus sp.) and common cattail (Typha latifolia) - were both abundant along parts of the shoreline. Water smartweed (Polygonum amphibium), the only floating-leaved species present, mainly grew along the east and west shores. Sago pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus), the most common submergent species, grew to a maximum depth of 2.5 m, and isolated areas of northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens) were identified along the east and west shores. Other submergent species, noted in a brief survey by Alberta Recreation and Parks in 1981 (Fairbarns et al. 1981), were Richardson pondweed (P. richardsonii), large-sheath pondweed (P. vaginatus), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum) and star duckweed (Lemna trisulca). One floating-leaved species, lesser duckweed (L. minor), was also identified.


There are no data available for the invertebrates in Saskatoon Lake.


Prior to 1987, only brook stickleback was known to inhabit the lake (Schroeder 1986). Fish and Wildlife Division monitored dissolved oxygen concentrations during 1984, 1985 and 1986 and concluded that the lake was capable of supporting fish year-round during those years. Consequently, the lake was stocked with 143,000 rainbow trout and 258,000 brook trout in 1987, and 91,120 rainbow trout and 184,460 brook trout in 1988 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1987; 1988[a]). Trout are unable to reproduce in Saskatoon Lake because of lack of spawning habitat, so the populations must be maintained by stocking. Survival over the winter of 1986/87 was excellent, but a partial winterkill occurred in 1988 and a severe winterkill occurred in 1989. Stocking was scheduled for the summer of 1989 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Schroeder 1988; Walty 1989). One-year-old rainbow trout captured in test nets in June 1988 had an average weight of 950 g and a maximum weight of 1,590 g. The growth rate of rainbow trout in Saskatoon Lake is one of the fastest in the region (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The growth of brook trout is not as fast as that of rainbow trout. One-year-old brook trout averaged 276 g, and the largest specimen captured in June 1988 weighed about 450 g (Schroeder 1988).


Saskatoon Island Provincial Park hosts at least 121 species of birds. A minimum of 44 species breed there during June. The area surrounding the park is rated the fourth most important waterfowl habitat in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion of Alberta by the Canadian Wildlife Service (Finlay and Finlay 1987). The park is one of the few accessible places in Canada where Trumpeter Swans can be regularly sighted during summer. Little Lake, which is quite shallow, contains abundant emergent vegetation that provides ideal conditions for Trumpeter Swans and other waterfowl to raise their young. A platform located on the north shore of the lake is a good spot for viewing the single pair of swans that nest on the lake each year. They arrive in the Grande Prairie area in mid to late April from their wintering grounds in Montana and Idaho, and they migrate south in mid to late October.

The marshes at the southwest and east sides of the park are also productive areas for nesting and foraging birds. Nesting birds include Trumpeter Swans, Eared Grebes, Mallards, Pintails, American Widgeons, Lesser Scaup, Sora, coots, Common Snipe, Black Terns and Yellow-headed and Red-winged blackbirds. Birds that use the marshes extensively for feeding include Green-winged Teal, Bluewinged Teal, Shovellers, Bufflehead and Franklin's Gulls. Muskrats are commonly found throughout the marsh and varying hares, porcupines and coyotes are present throughout the park (Van Tighem and Wallis 1973).

M.E. Bradford


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-----. 1988. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Peace River. Pers. comm.

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

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