For more than a century, Albertans have enjoyed boating, sailing, fishing, hiking and bird watching on and around Lake Newell. But until 1914, there was no lake there.
Lake Newell is actually a reservoir created after Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) built the Bassano Dam as part of the ‘Eastern Irrigation’ system designed to entice settlers to the naturally semi-arid area.
The dam was so successful that it was raised in 1934, and today Lake Newell is one of Alberta’s largest reservoirs. The the lake’s surface area fluctuates, but is usually about 6.5 kilometres wide and 14 kilometres long. At its deepest point, it’s about 20 metres deep.
Fishing – Alberta Environment and Parks manages Lake Newell’s recreational fisheries. Several species have been stocked over the past century, including lake whitefish, brook and cutthroat trout, while other fish species white sucker migrated from the Bow River.
Currently, sport fish species include walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, burbot, and lake whitefish. Other fish include white sucker, and spottail shiner. Currently, there is restricted harvest on walleye, perch, burbot, and lake whitefish, and a zero limit for northern pike. Please refer to Alberta’s Guide to Sportfishing Regulations for up-to-date information on what species of fish can and cannot be harvested from Lake Newell.
“Originally intended to lure settlers to the semi-arid farmlands of southern Alberta, Lake Newell is now a great destination spot for outdoor enthusiasts from anglers to bird watchers. Although water at Lake Newell comes from the high quality trout fishery known as the Bow River and there were cutthroat trout stocked historically, you are more likely to catch walleye, northern pike, lake whitefish, burbot or yellow perch at this cool water fishery. Don’t forget to take advantage of the walleye special licence harvest opportunities at Lake Newell and enjoy this lake, but don’t be fooled by a calm morning, always check your forecast for wind if you plan on being out on the water.”
– Shane Petry, Senior Fisheries Biologist, South Saskatchewan Region
History – The CPR began construction of the ‘Eastern Irrigation’ system in 1910. The Bassano Dam was the focus of the project, and all water for the irrigation project was diverted from the Bow River.
The reservoir was filled in 1914. Most homesteaders settled in the area from 1915 and 1919. During the depression, CPR accepted the local farmers’ offer to take over the project and the Eastern Irrigation District was formed in 1935. In 1939, 1978, 1988, and 1992, the capacity of Lake Newell was increased to extend irrigation, and increase and stabilize water storage. A major upgrade to the dam was announced in the wake of the 2013 Southern Alberta floods.
Kinbrook Island, which is located in Lake Newell, became a provincial park in 1951 after the Brooks Kinsmen Club obtained a recreational lease for the island. The park was enlarged to include all the islands in Lake Newell to protect nesting sites for white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, Canada geese, and numerous other migratory birds.
Alberta Environment and Parks’ Fisheries Management Objectives for Lake Newell are:
- Indigenous Management Objective – Honour subsistence, heritage and ceremonial fishery uses through responsible management of fish populations
- Recreational Management Objective – Sustainable Harvest for Walleye, Recovery for Northern Pike, Sustainable Harvest for Yellow Perch, and Sustainable Harvest for Lake Whitefish.
Location – Lake Newell is located approximately 200 kilometres southeast from Calgary and 125 kilometres northwest from Medicine Hat. Kinbrook Island Provincial Park is just a 15-minute drive from brooks, on the eastern shore of the lake.
Geography –Lake Newell is in Alberta’s Plains region. The Kininvie Plain is an undulating moraine with a few areas of higher relief. The drainage area around the reservoir is very small and about 1.3 times the area of the reservoir. Five intermittent streams flow into the reservoir, but the vast majority of the water comes from the Bow River at the Bassano Dam diversion.
Indigenous people – Around 200 AD, indigenous peoples from the Mississippi area migrated northwest and settled in semi-permanent villages in the Plains region. The Piegan, Kainai, Siksika, and Tsuu T’ina Nations occupied the Plains area. Their territory stretched from the North Saskatchewan River along Edmonton down to the Missouri River in Montana, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Saskatchewan River.
When European settlers explored the West, they likely met people of the Siksiká Nation first. Siksiká comes from the Blackfoot words sik (black) and iká (foot). The Siksikáwa people are the northernmost of the Niitsítapi (Original People), all of whom speak dialects of Blackfoot, an Algonquian language.
With its many amenities, including a large boat launch and sandy beach, Lake Newell is an excellent destination for Southern Albertan city-dwellers looking for a fun-filled and refreshing lake experience. It’s a great place to dip your toes, cool off, and reel in some fish.