North America > Canada

Great Bear Lake: The Largest Lake in Canada

lakeGreat Bear Lake
countryCanada
surface area30,451 km2
maximum depth446 m
average depth73 m
lake typeNatural freshwater lake
catchment area147,666 km2
altitude145 m
volume2,200 km3
outflowsGreat Bear River
islands26 main islands, totaling 759 km2 in area
shore length5,332 km
mixing typeMonomictic
settlementsDeline
residence time47,578 days
frozenNovember to July
trophic stateOligotrophic
originGlacial
average discharge536 m3 / sec.

Great Bear Lake Information and Facts

The Great Bear Lake, with a surface area of 31,153 square kilometers, is the eighth largest lake in the world by surface area, the fourth largest in North America, and the largest lake located entirely in Canada.

The Great Bear Lake is located in Canada’s Northwest Territories, on the Arctic Circle, at an altitude of 186 meters (or 610 feet). Its name originates from the word  "satudene" in Denesuline, which means “grizzly bear water people”. The lake was discovered around 1800 by traders from the North West Company.

Grizzly Bear Mountain, located on the lake’s southern shore and the Scented Grass Hill on its western shore, form the Sahoyue-Edacho National Historic Site.

Geography

The lake has surface area of 31,153 square kilometers (or 12,028 square miles) and a maximum depth of 446 meters (or 1,463 feet), boasting a volume of 2,236 cubic kilometers (536 cubic miles). Its average depth is 72 meters (236 feet), and it has a catchment area of 114,717 square kilometers (44,292 square miles).

The lake has a shore length of 2,719 kilometers, or 1,690 miles, a length of 310 kilometers (193 miles), and a maximum width of 177 kilometers (110 miles). Ice covers the lake for much of the year, from late November until July. The waters of the lake are cold and clear.

The lake is located in a very remote and wild located. Its southern and western arms reach into the tundra, while the east shore laps the hard rock edge of the Canadian Shield.

Lake Arms

The Great Bear Lake has several arms: Smith Arm, Dease Arm, McTavish Arm, McVicar Arm, and Keith Arm. The lake’s main outflow is Great Bear River, which flows out of the lake from the Keith Arm. This is also the location of the small community of Deline, built in 1825 by the British explorer Sir John Franklin. Through the Great Bear River, the lake drains into the Mackenzie River.

Inflows

The most important rivers that flow into the lake include Whitefish River (144 kilometers or 89 miles), Haldane River, Big Spruce River, Sloan River, Bloody River, Johnny Hoe River, and Dease River.

History

Europeans were not aware of the great size of the lake until around 1783, when Peter Pond found about its location. Fur trade then came here around 1800. Fort Franklin on the Keith Arm was established here in 1825 by John Franklin. The north shore of the lake was surveyed by John Richardson. Robert bell carried out a geological survey in 1900.

Used for Fishing and Hunting

The main human activities on the Great Bear Lake are fishing and hunting, and there are 3 lodges around the lake used for these purposes. The lake abounds with fish, especially with lake trout. It is thought that 4-5 different kinds of trout call the lake home, which makes it a truly exceptional case.

The largest lake trout ever caught by angling, 32.8 kg (72.3 lb) in weight, was captured here in 1995. The lake also holds the record for Arctic Grayling.  Only about 300 anglers fish the lake each year.

Mining Activities A uranium deposit was discovered in the region in 1930 by the Canadian prospector Gilbert LaBine. The former Port Radium (later Echo Bay) mining area was established on the eastern shore of the McTavish Arm in 1933, and it was the site of the pitchblende Eldorado Mine. Pitchblende is an ore that contains radium and uranium. Some of the ore used to manufacture USA’s WWII atomic bombs was mined here. Exhaustive mining ultimately depleted the reserves, and the community has been abandoned.

Great Bear Lake Fish Species

Grayling
Pike
Lake trout
Trout
Northern pike
Walleye
Perch