Garner 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 is out of date.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 Sheets73L/4
Lat / Long54.2000000, -111.5333333
54°12'N, 111°31'W
Area6.19 km2
Max depth15.2 m
Mean depth8.1 m
Dr. Basin Area25.5 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinBeaver River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusMesotrophic
TP x42 µg/L
CHLORO x11.0 µg/L
TDS x575 mg/L
Photo credit: Patricia Mitchell


Garner Lake is a popular recreational lake located in the counties of Smoky Lake and St. Paul. It is situated 175 km northeast of the city of Edmonton and 5 km north of the hamlet of Spedden. To travel to the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 28 to Spedden, then a paved secondary road north from Spedden to Garner Lake Provincial Park (FIGURE 1). A well-oiled gravel road extends north from the park and follows the western shore of the lake, and another gravel road extends east from the park entrance and follows the southeastern shore. The eastern bay can be reached by a gravel road that is connected to Secondary Road 866.

The lake was named for George C. Garner who began homesteading on a parcel of land in 1904 about 2 km to the east. Before the arrival of the Garner family, the lake had been named Hollow Lake by local Indians (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.).

The first settlers arrived in the area during the early 1900s. The hamlet of Spedden was established around 1912. By 1920, the Canadian National Railway arrived and a railroad station was built at Spedden. Most of the area that is now the provincial park (FIGURE 2) was reserved for public recreation by the Alberta government in 1927, but road access from Spedden to the park reserve was not completed until 1949. In 1953, the reserve became Garner Lake Provincial Park (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]). The park offers 66 campsites, 2 picnic shelters, cold-water showers, sewage dumping facilities, 3 playgrounds, 2 change houses, tap water, picnic areas, a hand boat launch, a boat launch for trailers and a swimming area. Several walking trails are available and one leads to a viewpoint.

The sport fishery at Garner Lake is one of the most popular in the area, and fishing for walleye, northern pike and yellow perch is the preferred recreational activity of lake users. No commercial or domestic fishing is allowed. There are no sport fishing regulations specific to Garner Lake, but provincial limits and regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Other favourite activities on and around the lake include swimming, sightseeing, general relaxation, water skiing, power boating, rowing, canoeing, snowmobiling, skating and cross-country skiing (Barber 1978). There are no boating restrictions over most of the lake, but in posted areas such as designated swimming areas, all boats are prohibited. In other posted areas, power boats are restricted to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

The water in Garner Lake is clear for much of the summer, and although it turns green during the warmest months, it remains quite transparent. Aquatic vegetation is abundant, and mats of filamentous algae float to the surface in most years.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The watershed around Garner Lake covers an area of almost 26 km2 and is about 4 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). There are no major inlet streams to the lake, and the outlet does not flow regularly. The drainage basin is part of a hummocky morainal plain that is characterized by rough, irregular knob and kettle topography where knobs and ridges are interspersed with undrained depressions (Kocaoglu 1975). Land north of the lake is moderately rolling (9 to 15% slope), whereas to the west, it is level to undulating (0 to 5% slope). In the provincial park and on the south side of the lake, the land is gently rolling (5 to 9% slope), and to the east, it varies from level to moderately rolling (0 to 15% slope).

Garner Lake's drainage basin is part of the Dry Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The soils in the watershed are predominantly moderately well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols that formed either on fine clayey, weakly calcarious till or on fine loamy, moderately to strongly calcareous till (Kocaoglu 1975). These soils support a native vegetation that consists primarily of trembling aspen and secondarily of balsam poplar, birch, white spruce, alder and willow. Forested areas are located mostly north and south of the lake, where slopes are steeper and less suitable for agriculture. Most of the lake's immediate shoreline is tree covered. In 1982, about half of the watershed had been cleared for agriculture (FIGURE 1). Because slopes are steep in some areas, and soils are poor, agriculture is limited to livestock and pasture production (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]). The soils in the area have low natural fertility, and good yields require applications of fertilizer (Kocaoglu 1975).

A large part of the shoreland has been subdivided. The first subdivision, Sunrise Beach (37 lots), was established north of the provincial park in 1958. Between 1961 and 1979, several subdivisions, comprising a total of 283 country residential lots, were created either on or near the shore (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]). In response to the increasing development pressures during the 1970s, the provincial government placed Garner Lake under the jurisdiction of the Regulated Lake Shoreland Development Operation Regulations. These regulations restricted lakeshore development until a lake management plan was completed and an area structure plan was adopted by the counties of St. Paul and Smoky Lake in 1982 (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]; 1982[b]). The lake management plan determines the extent of future land developments, allocates land use and determines ways to minimize environmental impacts and conflicts in uses of the lakeshore. It recommends preferred lake uses and ways to minimize lake-user conflicts. Between 1979 and 1988, shoreland development at Garner Lake was minimal, as no multiple lot subdivisions were approved (Barber 1988).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Garner is a triangular lake of moderate size (6.19 km2). The mean depth is about 8 m and the maximum depth is 15 m (TABLE 2, FIGURE 2). In many areas, the lake basin slopes steeply to depths of 12 m, but a large part of the bottom is quite level. The large northwest bay and part of the southwest shore are the shallowest areas.

The elevation of Garner Lake has been monitored since 1968 (FIGURE 3). Between 1968 and 1974, the lake level rose from its second lowest recorded elevation (605.27 m in September 1968) to its second highest recorded elevation (606.05 m in June 1974). The maximum elevation (606.14 m) was recorded in June 1979. From that time, the lake level declined to its minimum level (605.19 m), recorded in October 1987. This range in lake levels (0.95 m) would change the area of the lake by about 0.4 km2 (FIGURE 4).

Water Quality

The water quality of Garner Lake was studied by Alberta Environment during 1978 and 1979, and has been studied jointly by Alberta Environment and Alberta Recreation and Parks since 1984 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; 1985).

The water chemistry is dominated by sodium, sulphate, magnesium and bicarbonate ions (TABLE 3). Levels of total dissolved solids are fairly high (545 mg/L) in Garner Lake compared to others in the vicinity, and the lake is considered slightly saline.

Garner Lake mixes periodically throughout the summer, so the temperature and level of dissolved oxygen throughout the water column are usually quite uniform. Weak thermal stratification occurs for short periods only. Slight temperature gradients were noted on 14 August 1985 and 30 July 1986 (FIGURE 5). Under these temperature conditions, dissolved oxygen concentrations were low near the lake bottom. In winter, there is a gradual depletion of dissolved oxygen under ice. In some years, as in February 1986 and February 1987, the bottom water becomes anoxic. In other years, as in February 1978 and March 1979 and 1985, dissolved oxygen is present throughout the water column. In all years sampled, dissolved oxygen concentrations in the surface water remained above 6 mg/L.

Garner Lake is mesotrophic. The water is highly transparent, and average chlorophyll a levels (TABLE 4) are lower in this lake than in lakes with similar total phosphorus concentrations. In 1984, the highest chlorophyll a level recorded in Garner Lake was 14 µg/L (FIGURE 6). Although the water appeared green at the time, it was a transparent green, unlike that typically found in other lakes. The difference probably relates to the type of algae found in the lake. Concentrations of chlorophyll a and total phosphorus in 1984 were highest in July and late September. Such peaks during summer are probably the result of the internal loading of phosphorus from the bottom sediments to the overlying water. The supply of total phosphorus from sources external to the lake has been estimated at 1,098 kg/year, or 0.18 g/m2 of lake surface area (TABLE 5). Runoff from agricultural land accounted for 62% of this external loading. Other, smaller sources of supply were runoff from forested land (11%), runoff from residential areas (14%), sewage (less than 1%), and precipitation and dustfall (14%). Sewage inputs were not measured directly at Garner Lake, but were estimated from data collected for other Alberta lakes.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community in Garner Lake was studied by Alberta Environment in October 1977 and throughout 1978 (Mitchell 1979). Biomass was determined by cell counts. Blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) dominated the phytoplankton in all samples except those taken in June. In February, the main blue-green species were Gomphosphaeria sp. and Aphanizomenon sp. By May, blue-greens were dominant as a group, but the single most abundant species was a diatom, Fragilaria capucina (Bacillariophyta). In June, several blue-green species as well as the diatom F. capucina and the green alga Actinastrum hantzschii, formed most of the biomass. The greatest cell numbers were recorded from the end of August throughout October. Blue-greens (Gomphosphaeria sp., Lyngbya sp., Aphanizomenon sp. and Anabaena sp.) and secondarily diatoms (Fragilaria crotonensis and Stephanodiscus astrea) were the major groups during this period. The benthic alga Cladophora was also an important species during summer. It grew over macrophytes at the north and west ends of the lake and formed a dense mat near shore in the northern arm.

In November 1969, a large concentration of blue-green algae (including Microcystis sp.) was blown into the eastern part of the lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Several head of cattle died at the time, but poisoning has not been reported since then.

The aquatic vegetation was surveyed by Alberta Environment during August 1978 (Mitchell 1979). Emergent species were most abundant in areas sheltered from wind, as in the northern bay, the eastern bay, and the two small bays on the western side (FIGURE 7). Most plants grew at depths of 3 m or less, with the majority of growth in the 1- to 2-m depth zone. The dominant emergent species was common great bulrush (Scirpus validus), which grew to a depth of 0.5 m. Common cattail (Typha latifolia) grew along the western shore in wind-protected indentations. Sedge (Carex sp.), another common emergent, was most abundant on the western shore. Submergent species formed a zone of continuous vegetation around the shoreline. They were particularly dense at the northern end and in the small western bays. Most plants grew at depths less than 3 m. The dominant species were narrow-leaf pondweeds, primarily large-sheath pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus), but also Sago pondweed (P. pectinatus) and P. filiformis. Northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens) was abundant in deeper or more sheltered water and Ruppia occidentalis, a plant characteristic of saline waters, was common on the windy southeast shore.


The zooplankton community was studied during 1978 by Alberta Environment (Mitchell 1979). Species composition and relative abundance were determined, but biomass was not measured. Seventeen species were identified. The dominant species were the copepods Diaptomus sicilis and Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi, and the cladocerans Daphnia pulicaria, D. galeata mendotae, Diaphanosoma leuctenbergianum and Chydorus sphaericus.

No data are available for the benthic invertebrate community.


Seven species of fish have been reported in Garner Lake: northern pike, yellow perch, walleye, burbot, spottail shiner, Iowa darter and brook stickleback. Walleye were stocked in 1951 and from 1957 to 1959 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Despite the presence of potential spawning areas of sand and gravel, the walleye population did not appear to reproduce. The few walleye caught each year in the early 1980s were all large, mature fish that were probably remnants of the original planted stock (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]). In 1984, Garner Lake became part of a walleye enhancement project and walleye stocking resumed. The lake was stocked with 15,000 half-centimetre walleye in 1984, 31,700 fingerlings in 1986 and 15,000 fingerlings in 1987 (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1984; Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1986; 1987).

Garner Lake is managed for recreational fishing, and the sport fishery is very important to provincial park visitors and nearby residents. In a 1977 survey, cottage owners reported that fishing was their favourite recreational activity year round (Barber 1978). A creel survey at Garner Lake was conducted from 17 May to 27 August in 1986 (TABLE 6). Northern pike and yellow perch were the main catches, and a few walleye were taken. Of the total number of each species caught, 7% of the walleye, 24% of the northern pike, and 60% of the yellow perch were released. On a regional basis, the average harvest/angler-hour for 22 lakes in the Northeast Region surveyed between 1984 and 1987 was 0.10 for walleye, 0.22 for northern pike and 0.32 for yellow perch (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). In comparison, the harvest per unit effort at Garner Lake was lower than average for walleye (0.01 walleye/angler-hour) and northern pike (0.17 pike/angler-hour), and close to average for yellow perch (0.35 perch/angler-hour). The fishing pressure at Garner Lake during the 1986 survey period was 26.7 angler-hours/ha. Most of the angling effort was concentrated along the shoreline.

During the winter of 1948/49, Garner Lake was fished commercially for northern pike and yellow perch. The commercial fishery has not operated since that time.


Although Garner Lake is not as significant for waterfowl production as some of the smaller lakes in the area, it provides habitat for a number of species. Birds identified at the lake include several species of ducks, Common Loons, grebes, American Coots, Common Goldeneye and Great Blue Herons (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1982[a]). Waterfowl habitat generally coincides with areas of abundant emergent plant growth (FIGURE 7). Significant nesting areas are located at the east and northwest ends of the lake and in the two large, shallow bays at the southwest end.

M.E. Bradford


Alberta Energy and Natural Resources. 1984. Fish planting list. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Alberta Environment. n.d.[a]. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[b]. Tech. Serv. Div., Hydrol. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[c]. Tech. Serv. Div., Surv. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1985. Garner Lake. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br., Edmonton.

Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife. n.d. Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1986, 1987. Fish planting list. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

-----. 1988. Boating in Alberta. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

-----. 1989. Guide to sportfishing. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

Alberta Municipal Affairs. 1982[a]. Garner Lake management study. Prep. for Co. St. Paul and Co. Smoky Lake by Alta. Mun. Aff., Plan. Serv. Div., Plan. Br., Edmonton.

-----. 1982[b]. Garner Lake area structure plan. Prep. for Co. St. Paul and Co. Smoky Lake by Alta. Mun. Aff., Plan. Serv. Div., Plan. Br., Edmonton.

Alberta Recreation and Parks. n.d. Parks Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

Alberta Research Council. 1972. Geological map of Alberta. Nat. Resour. Div., Alta. Geol. Surv., Edmonton.

Barber, W.D. 1978. Garner Lake cottage owner survey. Alta. Mun. Aff., Plan. Serv. Div., Plan. Br., Edmonton.

-----. 1988. Alta. Mun. Aff., Plan. Serv. Div., Plan. Br., Edmonton. Pers. comm.

Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. 1978. National topographic series 1:50 000 73L/4 (1978). Surv. Map. Br., Ottawa.

Environment Canada. 1982. Canadian climate normals, Vol. 7: Bright sunshine (1951-1980). Prep. by Atm. Envir. Serv. Supply Serv. Can., Ottawa.

Kocaoglu, S.S. 1975. Reconnaissance soil survey of the Sand River area. Alta. Soil Surv. Rep. No. 34, Univ. Alta. Bull. No. SS-15, Alta. Inst. Pedol. Rep. No. S-74-34 1975. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Mitchell, P.A. 1979. Skeleton, Garner, Muriel Lakes water quality studies. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Water Qlty. Contr. Br., Edmonton.

-----. 1982. Evaluation of the "septic snooper" on Wabamun and Pigeon lakes. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Water Qlty. Contr. Br., Edmonton.

-----. 1989. Alta. Envir., Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br., Edmonton. Pers. comm.

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