‘Wabamun’ is the Cree word for mirror – It’s an apt name for the large, shallow, calm lake situated 60 kilometers west of Edmonton.
For generations, people living in Alberta have enjoyed Wabamun Lake’s natural beaches, beautiful wilderness and recreational opportunities.
The area has three sailing clubs, multiple boat launches, and a provincial park. Surrounded by small communities such as Seba Beach, Rich’s Point, and Ascot Beach, Wabamun Lake attracts people for opportunities to go boating, sailing, swimming, wakeboarding and water skiing.
Wabamun Lake is a very popular sport fishery. Sport fish species include northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, burbot, and lake whitefish. Other fish in the community are white sucker, brook stickleback, spottail shiner and Iowa darter. Currently, only catch-and-release fishing is allowed at Wabamun.
“Wabamun Lake has a fascinating history of settlement, development, and related uses of fisheries for food and recreation. The recovery of Northern Pike and restoration of Walleye fisheries indicates how appropriate management supports recreational angling opportunities in Alberta.”
– Bill Patterson, MSc, Fisheries Allocation and Use Specialist, Fisheries Policy
Wabamun Lake has been commercially and recreationally fished since the late 1880s. The lake was so popular in the 1930s that it was nearly impossible to find parking on the ice to either set a net or fish. It is an unsurprising consequence that there have been many population collapses in recorded history – including the extirpation of walleye.
The first coal mines in the area began underground in 1910 and as strip mines in 1948. The coal fired power plants have provided electricity to many residents and businesses over the years and have generated much controversy.
Historical records, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library, show substantial catches of whitefish, pickerel (slang for walleye), and pike in 1912-1913.
Fish production has been negatively affected for several reasons including, shoreline alteration by industry or residential use, a train spill in 2005 of oils, issues with spawning linked to coal power generation and its cooling processes. The closure of the commercial and sport fisheries led to the considerable increase in the number and size of Pike which led to the fishery becoming a very popular destination again.
“I tend to think that we have trouble with overharvest due to the few lakes in the province and the (recent) huge increase in human population. However, Walleye were extirpated from overfishing a century ago with a 1/10 to 1/15th of the human population. This speaks to the vulnerability of these lakes to overharvest and the continued need for careful management.”
– Stephen Spencer, PhD, Senior Fisheries Biologist, Red Deer/North Saskatchewan Management Area
Alberta Environment and Parks has several fisheries management objectives for Wabamun Lake:
- Indigenous Management Objective – Honour subsistence, heritage and ceremonial fishery uses through responsible management of fish populations.
- Recreational Management Objective – Restoration of the walleye population, old growth or trophy northern pike fishery, and recovery of the lake whitefish population.
- Habitat Management Objective – Decrease phosphorus inputs from fertilizers, minimize erosion of shorelines and maintain natural shorelines.
Wabamun Lake is located 60 km west of the city of Edmonton on Highway 16 (Yellowhead). Several turnoffs provide access to Wabamun Lake Provincial Park, the town of Wabamun Lake, summer villages of Kapasiwin and Seba Beach, and the Paul Band Reserve. Local roads run along much of the lakeshore. Several boat launches provide access to the lake for fishing and boating.
Natural beaches surround the lake with rocky shorelines along the east shores. At 82 square kilometres, it is Alberta’s 16th largest lake. Water flows into Wabamun from seasonal runoff and from groundwater, and then drains to the south toward the North Saskatchewan River.
Like most lakes in Alberta, Wabamun was carved out of the landscape through the movement of glaciers over the past four ice ages. The last glaciation, the Wisconsin, retreated 12,000 years ago and left behind impressions that formed Alberta’s land and water features.
Indigenous people travelled a vast territory from the Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains and along the foothills to Montana. Together, the Cree and Nakoda, acquired tools and goods from the Hudson Bay Company, moved westward taking part in the fur trade, and settled mainly in the foothills.
One of these groups, the Paul Band signed Treaty No. 6 in 1876 and settled on the southeast shore of Wabamun Lake. The lake was also referred to as White Whale Lake for the large lake whitefish caught there. The name reverted back to the Cree name near the turn of the century (1900). The community of Wabamun Lake was established in 1912 along with the cottage subdivisions at Lakeview and Kapasiwin.
Wabamun’s rich history, beautiful vistas and accessibility make it an amazing place to visit, as well as a great example of Alberta fisheries management personnel. Through evidence-based practice, and long-term thinking, this area will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.