Marie 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 is out of date.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/9
Lat / Long54.6333333, -110.3000000
54°37'N, 110°17'W
Area34.6 km2
Max depth26 m
Mean depth14.0 m
Dr. Basin Area386 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinBeaver River Basin
Camp GroundNone
Boat LaunchNone
Sport FishWalleye, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, Lake Whitefish
Trophic StatusMesotrophic
TP x15 µg/L
CHLORO x5.6 µg/L
TDS x148 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Marie Lake is a beautiful lake with excellent beaches and clear water. It is located in Improvement District No. 18 (South), about 300 km northeast of the city of Edmonton and 25 km northwest of the town of Cold Lake. From Highway 55, the lake can be reached by travelling north on a gravel road, locally known as the Primrose Lake Road, which skirts the eastern shore. Local access roads branch west from the Primrose Lake Road to the south and east sides of the lake (FIGURE 1). Current development around Marie Lake is very limited, but the lake has good potential for recreational use.

The lake's name is said to be derived from the Cree words methae or merai, which mean "a fish" (Geog. Bd. Can. 1928). The original inhabitants of the area probably were the nomadic Beaver, Blackfoot and Slavey tribes. Late in the eighteenth century, these tribes were displaced by the Cree, who came in search of furs to trade with white traders (McMillan 1977). Nearby Cold Lake was part of a fur trade route from Waterhen Lake, Saskatchewan, into Alberta's northern lake region via the Beaver River (McMillan 1977; Alta. Mun. Aff. 1978).

Currently, there are no public facilities on Marie Lake. However, demand for public access was such that a lake management study was prepared in 1987 and an area structure plan was completed in 1988 (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987[a]; 1987[b]; 1988). 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.

There are several private recreational developments on the lake, all located on leased Crown land. The Alberta Fish and Game Association has a wilderness camp on the western shore and the Cold Lake Camping Society of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Cold Lake at Medley leases about 65 ha on the eastern shore (FIGURE 2). The CFB recreation area, Marie Lake Campsite, sometimes allows public use of the boat launch and parking area (Lasouski 1989). A commercial campground is slated for development on the peninsula on the northeast corner of the lake. As of 1989, construction of this facility was only in the preliminary stages (Slaght 1989). Other developments on Crown land include a Department of National Defence helicopter landing pad on the western shore and a residential site on the eastern shore just north of Marie Lake Campsite. As well, Alberta Recreation and Parks has reserved an area on the northwest bay with the intent to create a provincial recreation area (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987[a]).

Only a small portion of the shoreland is privately owned. A registered subdivision is located on private land on the eastern shore (FIGURE 2). There are 56 lots, all of which are fully developed, and 4.6 ha of shoreline public reserves. These reserves have no public facilities. Development of the balance of private land includes an abandoned mink farm at the northwest corner of the lake at Marie Creek, and a farm and cottage development along the southern shore near the outflow (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987[a]).

Surveys of land owners around the lakeshore were conducted in 1977 and 1986 (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979; 1987[a]). The most popular recreation activities in summer were swimming and fishing, followed by sightseeing, relaxation, power boating, canoeing and water skiing. Sailboats and rowboats are also used by cottagers. Marie Lake is susceptible to sudden windstorms that make the eastern side of the lake treacherous for boaters (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987[b]). In winter, popular activities were general relaxation, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hunting. There are no boating restrictions specific to the lake, but general federal regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Marie Lake has very clear water with little algal growth. Much of the shoreline is flat and sandy, with only scattered areas of aquatic vegetation. Sport fish species in the lake include northern pike, yellow perch, lake whitefish and walleye. There are no special sport fishing regulations for the lake, but provincial limits apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Marie Lake has an extensive drainage basin that is about 11 times larger than the lake (Tables 1, 2). Most of the water flowing into the lake comes from Marie Creek to the north (FIGURE 1). This creek drains Burnt and May lakes before flowing into Marie Lake. Three smaller creeks drain the northeast part of the watershed and flow into Marie Lake's northern shore. As well, a small creek drains the wetland area west of the lake. Marie Creek flows out of the southern bay of Marie Lake into Ethel Lake and then the Beaver River.

The drainage basin is covered by nearly featureless ground moraine and outwash sand islands surrounded by organic materials (Kocaoglu 1975). Soil parent materials are glacial till, glaciofluvial sand and peat. The land is characterized by flat and depressional to gently rolling topography featuring minor ridges and knobs intermixed with numerous wet depressions and small peat bogs. Soils are mostly moderately well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols on upper and midslopes, and poorly to very poorly drained Fibrisols and Mesisols on depressional to level ground.

Agricultural activity in the watershed is very limited. Most of the land is forested and there are large wetland areas throughout the drainage basin (FIGURE 1). The southern half of the lake is part of the Dry Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The dominant trees are trembling aspen on well-drained to moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols, jack pine on rapidly to well-drained Eutric Brunisols, and white spruce on imperfectly drained Gray Luvisols. Black spruce, willows and sedges are the main species on poorly to very poorly drained Organics. The northern half of the lake and the drainage basin north of the lake are part of the Moist Mixedwood Subregion. This subregion differs from the Dry Mixedwood Subregion in that trembling aspen and balsam poplar are codominant.

Marie Lake is underlain by the Muriel Lake aquifer within the Sinclair and Helina Channels (Ozoray and Lytviak 1980). Groundwater is used for stock watering and residential purposes. Regional water needs are met by the aquifers rather than Marie Lake. The largest water user in the region is the oil sands industry, which is also the major industry in the watershed. Activity is centred in the area east of Burnt Lake. These oil sands plants currently use groundwater or water piped from Cold Lake as their water source. As a result of Alberta Environment's studies of the water resources in the Cold Lake-Beaver River basin in the early 1980s (Alta. Envir. 1983), a long-term plan for water resources management in the Cold Lake region was adopted by the government in 1985 (Alta. Envir. 1985). Under this plan, industrial withdrawals from Marie Lake are limited to 0.425 x 106 m3/year while the lake has an unregulated outlet, or 1.2 x 106 m3/year if a weir is built on the outlet.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Marie Lake is a large, deep lake with a fairly regular shoreline (TABLE 2, FIGURE 2). The maximum depth recorded during the 1964 hydrographic survey was 26 m in an area located east of the peninsula.

The lake basin slopes steeply along much of the shoreline, particularly along the north and southeast shores. In those two areas, the backshore is steep, the shoreline banks are steep and jagged, and the water's edge is sharply defined. The basin slopes most gradually near the peninsula on the southwest shore and along the central and northern portions of the east shore. In these areas the backshore has gentle to moderate slopes and the water's edge is flat and sandy. Around the lake, over 95% of the backshore area has a dense tree cover, with trees and shrubs growing down to the water's edge. Areas of organic deposits and marsh, which constitute less than 5% of the backshore, are located along the peninsula and along the Marie Creek inflow and outflow (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987{a]).

Water levels have been monitored continuously since 1968 (FIGURE 3). The historic fluctuation is 0.77 m, from the historic minimum of 573.32 m in July 1968, to the historic maximum of 574.09 m in June 1974. Changes in the area and capacity of Marie Lake with fluctuations in water level are illustrated in Figure 4.

Water Quality

The water quality of Marie Lake was studied by Alberta Environment approximately twice per month during the open-water seasons in 1980 and 1981 and occasionally during the winters of 1980/81 and 1981/82 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Trew et al. 1983). The water is fresh, well-buffered and moderately hard (TABLE 3). Bicarbonate and calcium are the dominant ions.

The lake was strongly thermally stratified from June to August in 1980 and June through September in 1981 (FIGURE 5). It mixed completely in May of 1981 and in October of both years. In 1981, the bottom water was anoxic by July, and by early September, the water was anoxic at depths greater than 11 m (FIGURE 6). Under ice, the surface waters were well oxygenated in January and February of both 1981 and 1982 (FIGURE 6), but dissolved oxygen became depleted in the deeper waters in both years. By February of 1982, dissolved oxygen had declined to 1.2 mg/L at a depth of 20 m.

Marie Lake is mesotrophic. Although chlorophyll a levels are quite low, there are substantial year-to-year differences. In 1980, chlorophyll a levels reached a maximum of 16.1 µg/L in October. In 1981, the maximum value of 7.0 µg/L was recorded in June (FIGURE 7). Average chlorophyll a values were 6.5 µg/L in 1980 and 4.6 µg/L in 1981 (TABLE 4). Total phosphorus concentrations are quite low for an Alberta lake; in 1981, they were highest in spring and fall and averaged 15 µg/L. Phosphorus data are not available for 1980.

The phosphorus supply to Marie Lake from external sources has been estimated (TABLE 5). The largest source of phosphorus is the forested portion of the immediate watershed, which provides 60% of the total input of 2,900 kg/year, or 0.08 g/m2 of lake surface. Precipitation and dustfall account for 25% of the total, and inflow from Burnt and May lakes provides another 9%. Contributions from agricultural and cleared land (less than 1%), urban areas (2%) and sewage (4%) are minimal. The release of total phosphorus to Marie Lake from sediments under shallow water (9-m deep or less) during summer has also been estimated (Shaw and Prepas 1989). The rate of release is high (4.9 mg/m2 per day) and indicates that phosphorus return from shallow sediments could be a substantial component of the lake's phosphorus budget.

Biological Characteristics


The composition of the phytoplankton was examined on four dates during 1978 by Esso Resources Ltd. (Cross 1979), once in 1979, approximately twice a month throughout 1980 and 1981, and once in 1983 and 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). In 1980, there were no clear seasonal patterns in phytoplankton biomass (TABLE 6), but in 1981, biomass clearly decreased from March to October. The average biomass for the period from May to October in the two years was 1.51 mg/L in 1980 and 2.00 mg/L in 1981. During the open-water period in 1980, blue-greens (Cyanophyta), particularly Oscillatoria agardhii, Lyngbya Bergei, Anabaena flos-aquae, Aphanothece sp., Aphanizomenon flos-aquae and A. gracile, were the dominant or codominant group on all sampling dates except for 14 October. Diatoms (Bacillariophyta), particularly Stephanodiscus niagarae, were the dominant group on this date. Golden-brown algae (Chrysophyta) such as Heterochromas globosa were abundant only in September, and dinoflagellates (Pyrrhophyta) such as Ceratium hirundinella were abundant during August and September.

The macrophyte community was surveyed by Alberta Environment in 1978 and 1981 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; McGregor 1983). Five emergent, 3 floating, and 13 submergent species were identified. There were two important macrophyte beds: one stretched north from the central part of the western shore to the centre of the north shore, and the other was located along the western shore of the southern bay (FIGURE 8). These areas are essential to fish spawning and production (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987[b]). The dominant emergent vegetation in the lake was common great bulrush (Scirpus validus). The two major macrophyte beds were dominated by pondweeds (Potamageton richardsonii and P. natans), stonewort (Chara spp.), and northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens). Most of the littoral area outside of the two bays supported a sparse growth of pondweed (either P. gramineus, P. richardsonii or P. zosteriformis) with some stonewort (Chara spp.).


A preliminary survey of the zooplankton and benthic invertebrate communities was made in 1978 for Esso Resources Ltd. (Cross 1979). The number/L of crustacean zooplankton and rotifers varied widely among sample dates and depths. Twelve species of crustacean zooplankton were identified; Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi and Diaptomus sicilis were the dominant copepods and Chydorus sphaericus and Daphnia galeata mendotae were the dominant cladocerans. Diacyclops is important because it is the intermediate invertebrate host for the parasite, Triaenophorus crassus, that infests lake whitefish. Seven species of rotifers were identified; Keratella cochlearis was the dominant species.

The 12- to 16-m depth zone was the only depth sampled for benthic invertebrates on all five collection dates. Midge larvae (Chironomidae) and aquatic earthworms (Oligochaeta) were consistently present in the samples; fingernail clams (Sphaeriidae) were occasionally present.


Eleven species of fish have been reported in Marie Lake: lake whitefish, cisco, burbot, northern pike, yellow perch, walleye, white sucker, spottail shiner, lake chub, ninespine stickleback and Iowa darter (Watters 1979; Aquat. Envir. Ltd. 1983). Cysts of the tapeworm Triaenophorus crassus have been recorded in the whitefish and cisco (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The lake is managed for domestic, commercial and sport fisheries. There are few data available for the domestic fishery. Four domestic licences were issued from 1982 to 1985, but the only reported catch was 57 kg of burbot (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

Records of the commercial catch have been kept since 1947 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The fishery was closed from 1962/63 to 1970/71. As well, in 10 of the 11 years from 1977/78 to 1988/89, either the fishery was closed or there was no catch taken by the single licensee. In the 11th year, 1980/81, the 10 licensees reported a total catch of 4,013 kg: 3,133 kg of burbot, 431 kg of northern pike, 171 kg of walleye, and 273 kg of lake whitefish. Lake whitefish has always been the principal species sought. The highest whitefish catch was 62,800 kg, taken during the 1949/50 season. The whitefish catch averaged 6,200 kg between 1971 and 1976, but only 200 kg were taken in 1976/77 and 273 kg were taken in 1980/81. The catch of cisco averaged 4,800 kg/year from 1953 to 1959, but fell to less than 20 kg/year during the 1970s and 1980s, probably due to low demand for cisco as mink food. The annual catch of northern pike was about 1,500 kg until 1961/62, but dropped to less than 40 kg/year during the 1970s. The walleye catch varied between 160 and 2,000 kg/year until 1961/62, but was less than 80 kg/year during the 1970s.

Fish and Wildlife Division staff estimated that Marie Lake could sustain a total catch of 14,220 kg/year (Watters 1979). The average commercial catch for the 15 fishing seasons from 1955/56 to 1976/77 (15,000 kg/yr) exceeded this estimate slightly. Despite the fact that there were only two years of commercial fishing from 1962 to 1971, and the average total catch from 1971/72 to 1976/77 was only 6,000 kg/year, the fishery collapsed. Changes in the age-structure of the whitefish catch from domination by eight-year-old fish in 1969 to domination by four-year-old fish in 1977 supports the hypothesis of overexploitation. A recent model, based on total phosphorus concentration, estimates Marie Lake can only support a total catch of 4,100 kg/year (Hanson and Leggett 1982). In 1980, the commercial quota was set at 2,700 kg/year, of which 2,250 kg was to be whitefish (Longmore and Stenton 1983), but since 1981, no catch has been taken.

There are few data for the sport fishery in Marie Lake and the catch is unknown. Although angling was ranked the second most popular recreation activity in a survey of cottage owners, 42% complained of the poor fishing (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979). Walleye are the most sought-after species. During the early 1980s, anglers complained of poor walleye catches, so in 1984, 1986 and 1987 about 100,000 walleye fingerlings were stocked. In addition, almost 600,000 walleye fry were stocked in 1987 (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1984; Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1986; 1987). Interestingly, during the summers of 1987 and 1988, anglers reported good catches of 8-to 10-year-old walleye, and test netting in fall 1988 indicated a good walleye population. During the winter of 1988/89, however, anglers again reported a poor walleye catch (Sullivan 1989). In general, fishing intensity at Marie Lake is so low that an attempt to conduct a creel survey failed for lack of anglers. Rough water and sudden storms make the lake dangerous at times for fishing from boats, and the lack of public access reduces angler numbers.


Marie Lake has very little shoreline suitable for use by semiaquatic animals (Rippon 1983; Alta. Mun. Aff. 1987[b]). Small numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallards, American Widgeons and Common Loons nest on the lake and California Gulls, White Pelicans, Ospreys and the occasional Bald Eagle feed in the lake. Beaver are abundant on the inlet and outlet streams.

M.E. Bradford and J.M. Hanson


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