MIKISIW – eagle ᒥᑭᓯᐤ SÂKÂHIKAN – lake ᓵᑳᐦᐃᑲᐣ
Lac La Nonne is situated in the Athabasca River basin and is fed by Majeau Creek. The lake waters are controlled by a dam that crosses MacDonald Creek which drains into the Pembina River. The lake is about 12 square kilometres in area and nearly 20 metres at its deepest.
The Cree originally called the lake mikisiw sakahikan, Eagle Lake. In 1827 Edward Ermatinger, a Hudson Bay Company employee at the time, wrote in his journal referring to the lake as la Nane [sic]. It is said by many that he was probably considering the lake be named for the abundance of white-winged scoters which were similar to an English duck called ‘the nun’. However, this author thinks if that were the case Ermantinger was toying, as ‘the nun’ in Britain is actually a white merganser, a smew, referred to as white nun or nun. They couldn’t be more opposite in colouring. Perhaps it is more likely he was merely referring to the scoter common on the lake, as it is very black and actually looks like a nun with its dappled white on the wings. Regardless, the lake has been called Lac La Nonne since.
Until the early 1800’s, before the Hudson Bay Company established a trading post, the area was a vast forested wilderness. The people native to the area were the Cree and Nakoda (Stoney) who had been fishing and hunting the land for centuries. Lac La Nonne was on the fur trade and goods route along the Athabasca River between Edmonton House and Fort Assiniboine. The HBC post was set-up in the north area of the lake and used to pasture the herds of packhorses that were needed for the portage. And by the 1830s many Metis had arrived. In 1873 the HBC set aside 6 land reserves totalling 500 acres northeast at Lac La Nonne. Later, with the declining fur trade in the 1890’s, the Metis moved on and the HBC trading post closed in 1894.
It was in the 1860s that the Oblate Missionaries, Fathers Albert Lacombe and Hippolyte Leduc, began to visit the area. And in 1870 Father Favard became the priest at Lac La Nonne and built a small log cabin on the southeast shore to begin his ministry. In 1876 Chief Katchikawesham signed Treaty 6 and he was baptized at the Lac La Nonne Mission on Easter Sunday of 1878 to become Alexander Arcand and chief of what would later be called the Alexander Reserve 134 at Sandy Lake.
The Klondike Gold Rush came upon Lac La Nonne during the 1890s and prospectors were lured by the glitter of gold. As many passed through they were met by a signpost along the trail.
Due North – Dawson City – Starvation and Death
Due South – Home Sweet Home and a Warm Bed
For many the words proved powerful. Instead of the gold of the mines they found the gold of the grain and took up farming on the fertile soils around Lac La Nonne. Just off the trail there still remains the vestiges of a rocky outcrop over grown with vegetation, the only relic of a grotto where the icon of the Virgin Mary was later destroyed by lightening.
Families continued to settle the shores of Lac La Nonne and farming settlements continued to grow in the area. By 1906 nearly 50 acres of land was granted to the mission and a further 40 acres was added in 1912. The mission would build a church, and a cemetery for the last stop for the pioneers and people of Lac La Nonne.
Famous writer, editor and botanist Georges Bugnet, born Henri Doutremount in 1879 in Chalons-sur-Saone, France would find his final resting place in the mission cemetery. As well as writing, Bugnet became a successful pioneer, farmer, horticulturalist, and rose breeder in the west side valley between Lac La Nonne and the smaller Lake Majeau. He died at the age of 102.
Over time the mission site deteriorated and was later revived in the 1980s. Today the site is Camp Encounter where youth experience the teachings of the mission, along with the unique history of the area, all experienced in the natural and beautiful environment of Lac La Nonne.
By 1912 there was very little farm land available that hadn’t been claimed around the lake. Lac La Nonne was surrounded by farms, cattle, horses and sawmill operations as well as the summer cottages that were popping up along the eastern shore. A summer resort was established on the southwest shore in 1928. Killdeer, a resort which still exists today, was the summer recreation high spot with countless summer activities for holidaymakers and cottage owners. They were even known to hold amphibious horse races as well as numerous other events.
Land acquisition grew since the 1970s and there is very little shore that isn’t privately owned. There were 13 subdivision resorts and the Summer Village of Birch Cove at Lac la Nonne by 1980. Currently there is substantial building with as many as a dozen residential subdivision developments. While there are public accesses, picnic parks and boat launches there are no provincial parks. The 3 campground resorts, Elks Beach, Willow Bend and Killdeer, are privately owned.
Since the Lac La Nonne shoreline is so highly developed, many people of the lake have expressed concern regarding the environmental and ecological sustainability of the lake and its watershed. The Lac La Nonne Watershed Stewardship Society along with the Lac La Nonne Enhancement and Protection Association are pro-active and have been instrumental in studying and protecting the water quality of the lake and monitoring the environmental impact on the shores and the watershed. The watershed extends to Nakamun and Majeau lakes.
Much of the watershed is farming and cattle operations. Around the lake the riparian zone is highly sensitive and the health of the shore is at risk. Much of the shrubbery, ground cover, bunch grasses and trees have been removed in some areas leaving full exposure of the shoreline and making it vulnerable to erosion. In other areas all vegetation has been destroyed. However, there are now several riparian demonstration improvement areas established. One is on the west shore of Lac La Nonne and two are on the east shore of the lake.
While the overall water quality of the lake is good, the preventive and pro-active activities and monitoring by the stewardship and enhancement groups must be lauded as they will ensure that Lac La Nonne and its shores and ecology remain balanced and healthy for many years to come.
The lake is home to 7 species of fish. They include cisco, walleye, yellow perch, burbot, northern pike, white sucker and white fish. There has been no commercial fishery since it was shut down in 1975. All fishing is recreational.
While there are few wetlands and limited upland nesting sites the lake is home to a variety of waterfowl. Lac La Nonne hosts white-winged scoter, common golden-eye, mallard, western grebe, common loon, blue-winged teal, redhead duck and lesser scaup. The lake is also home to the American white pelican during summer months. Birds of prey are present in the skies above the lake and on occasion can be seen surveying the water with an eagle eye. The unusual laughing sound among the reeds and cattails is the cackling of the sora rail.They are often joined at the water’s edge by families of white-tail and mule deer as well as the occasional moose. The elusive mink makes its home around Lac La Nonne, as does the great horned owl. And of course there are plenty of songbirds in the surrounding woods and vegetation.
THE LAST WORD
From wilderness to the Hudson Bay Company, the Missions of the Oblate Fathers, the trail to the Klondike and one of Alberta’s oldest and most popular 20th century summer resorts, Lac La Nonne has experienced a full and rich history to become one of the most settled, protected and prettiest lakes in Alberta.
Satellite view of Lac La Nonne
Photo credits: Google Earth
Size of lake: 11.8 square kilometres
Greatest depth: 19.8 metres
Boat launches: 4 public launches
Fishing potential: Good
Restrictions on boating & fishing, if any: Restrictions apply where posted
Summer Villages (1): Birch Cove
Year settled: 1870 Metis & HBC to the north & 1860 Oblates to the south
Access to Summer Villages (when open/accessible): All year round
Hiking & trails: Nature trails; ATV trails nearby
Appeal to families & children: Ideal family site
Appeal to people with passion for topic: Good – Nature, Fishing, Canoeing/Kayaking, Lakes, Missions
Scenic appeal of site: Excellent
Accommodations: 3 private camping resorts tenting, RVs, playgrounds, all amenities
Amenities: 4 public day-use areas with picnic tables, water pump, washrooms
Additional/nearby recreation & accommodation: 2 golf courses, motorsports park, 5 lakes with camping, trails & recreational areas & Thunder Lake Provincial Campground
FURTHER READING & BIBLIOGRAPHY
Source 1 http://alberta-lakes.sunsite.ualberta.ca/ Patricia Mitchell & Ellie Prepas, Atlas of Alberta Lakes
Source 2 Lac La Nonne Watershed Stewardship Society, State of the Watershed Report, 2006
Source 3 Lac La Nonne Enhancement & Protection Association, Lac La Nonne Handbook, 2009
Source 4 http://preview.knowalberta.ca