Lake Nipigon: The Sixth Great Lake

Lake Nipigon is the largest lake lying entirely within the boundaries of Ontario Province, Canada. Because of its size it is often referred to as the sixth Great Lake of North America.

Lake Nipigon Stats

Lake NameLake Nipigon
Surface area4505.950
Maximum depth165.0
Average depth55.0
Lake typeRift lake
Catchment area24626.20
OutflowsNipigon River
IslandsCaribou, Geikie, Katatota, Kelvin, Logan, Murchison, Murray, Shakespeare
Shore length2293.45
SettlementsThunder Bay
Residence time8038.1
FrozenNovember to May
Dam height43
Dam year1950
Average discharge356.846
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The lake is situated in the Southern part of Canada, 120 kilometers North-East of Thunder Bay, and has a coastline defined mainly by promontories and large bays. Because of its lush surroundings, dramatic landscapes and imposing geological features (towering cliffs), as well as its green-black sand beaches, it is a favored spot among outdoor adventurists. Pyroxene is the main cause of the beaches’ unusual color.

The lake flows into Nipigon River, which then makes its way to the Nipigon Bay of Lake Superior. Lake Nipigon and the river are the largest affluents of Lake Superior. The lake is home to many islands of which the largest are Caribou, Geikie, Murray, Murchison, Katatota, Kelvin, Logan and Shakespeare islands.

Geology and Animal Life

During the last Ice Age, the lake was part of the drainage path for Lake Agassiz, a huge glacial lake in the heart of Northern America.

The abstract mafic rocks that can be found around Lake Nipigon are the evidence of a rift-related magmatism, which happened approximately 1,109 million years ago. The 150-200 meters tall sills can also be associated with rift activity.

Lake Nipigon valley serves as an important habitat for the woodland caribou. The cliffs around the rift lake are homes to bald eagles and osprey. Although deforestation has been present on the lake’s shoreline, a number of trees part of the original forest, such as fir, black spruce, red pine, cedar, moose and maple still thrive on the premises. Aspen and birch are part of the new forest on the coastline. The most frequently seen animals in these forests are foxes, beavers, martens, lynxes, deer and moose.

History and Variations of its Name

The first nations living around the lake were part of the Ojibwe population. In 1667 the first mass was held by the French Jesuit missionary and explorer, Claude-Jean Allouez. During this time the body of water was referred to as “lac Alimibeg”.

In 1683 Danuel Greysolon established the first trading post on the lake called Fort Tourette, which was supposedly located on the North-Eastern shores of the lake and handled fur trading. Because of the excessive production of beaver belts the system of trading permits was revoked and the trading post was closed in 1696.

The post was reopened in the 18th century and functioned until the end of the French regime. Following the Treaty of Paris (1763), the area was put into British hands, but the indigenous people only handed over the watershed to the Province of Canada in 1850.

On a map by John Mitchell dating back to 1778, the lake is called Lago Nepigon and its outlet was named F. Nempissaki. In the 1807 A New Map of Upper and Lower Canada by John Cary, it is referred to as “Lake St. Ann” or “Winnimpig”, whilst its outflow was called Red Stone River.

On a different map that was made 20 years later by Philippe Vandermaelen the lake kept its St. Anne name, but its main outflow appears as Nipigeon River. On the North America sheet IV, Lake Superior map originating from 1832, St. Ann is also called Red Lake, while its outlet is referred to simply as “Neepigeon”.

Starting from 1883, maps consistently named the lake “Nipigon”, which comes from an Ojibwe word and means “at continuous water” or “at waters that extend over the horizon”. The lake was included in the new Thunder Bay District of Ontario in 1871.

In 1943 Canada and the United States agreed on the Ogoki diversion, which involved connecting the upper portion of the Ogoki River to Lake Nipigon, diverting the waters towards Lake Superior. The diversion’s main purpose was to support the hydroelectrical plants on the Nipigon River, which provide power for mining and for the entire lake-head region.

Tourism and Leisure

The main activities in the area are fishing and bird-watching. Walleye, brook trout, lake trout and Northern Pike are the most frequent among the fish found in the lake. There are a number of recreational trekking trails starting from Nipigon town. Tourists also come to the lake for kayaking and camping.

Lake Nipigon Provincial Park, located on the Eastern part of the lake, is currently not operating and has no official visitor facilities.

Lake Nipigon Map

Lake Nipigon Reviews

5.0/5SuperbBased on 1 review
5.0 stars

Ingrid White – 2023-02-10 14:25:55

GORGEOUS Lake Nipigon!! (I know this is an Ojibwa-Ojibwa-Ojibway word) This treasure is a child of Lake Superior. I live in Ontonagon, Michigan right on Lake Superior. The name "Ontonagon" is derived from the Ojibway word "nontounagon," which means "I lost my bowl." Local legend surrounding the name stems from the story that a member of Chief O-Kun-De-Kun's band was washing bowls near the mouth of the river when she was startled by an unkempt stranger in a canoe. The woman inadvertently dropped one of the bowls into the river and exclaimed "nontounagon". The white man took her declaration to be a reply to his question about the name of the area. I appreciate and truly love Canada too. THANK YOU!!!!!