With a surface area of 6,527 km2, Smallwood Reservoir is the largest reservoir in Canada, and the second largest reservoir in the world by surface area. It is located on the Western part of Newfoundland and Labrador province and is the source of the Churchill River.
Situated on the Labrador Plateau, with altitudes varying between 457 and 579 meters above sea level, the remote area is not exactly for luxury-loving tourists, but rather adventurous souls seeking for calmness in the wilderness.
Along the Churchill River one can encounter one of the World’s largest waterfalls, with the same name, which has a drop of 75 meters. Today it is said that water only flows down once every 10-15 years.
Climate and Vegetation
The reservoir is located in a region where the summers are brief and chilly, the average summer temperature being 9oC. Winters, on the other hand, are mostly long and intense, the mean temperature this time of the year is -15OC. The average annual temperature of the area is -3.5OC, with precipitations between 900-1000 mm. Permafrost sometimes occurs in the wetlands.
This particular area is said to be shaped by the progressing and retirement of glaciers, which happened nearly 15,000 years ago. The lake region is mostly famous for its coniferous woodland, often surrounded by tundra and alpine tundra vegetation. Feathermoss and white spruce forests are also common in open stands. Drumlins and eskers are frequently seen landforms.
Fishing and Hunting
The man-made lake is a real haven for fishing enthusiasts. Through the years there were numerous record-breaking catches here, including the 22-pound landlocked salmon. Other popular fish of the Smallwood Reservoir are the lake trout, brook trout, the northern pike and white fish.
Good news for those who prefer hunting: you can encounter moose, caribou and black bears, along with wolves, coyotes, geese and many other local birds.
Just remember to read the fishing and hunting regulations before you go in pursuit of these preys. Non-residents should be accompanied either by a local, or a guide, in order to ensure their own safety, as well as the well-being of the environment.
Tourism and Main Activities
Smallwood Reservoir can be accessed through a paved road from Quebec, which quickly turns into a gravel pathway. The main road leading up to the lake is the Trans Labrador Highway.
The town of Churchill Falls, with a population of 650, is the main gateway leading you into the wilderness. It is a so-called company town, with residents who work at the Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Facility, so don’t expect many tourist installations.
There are only a few possibilities of accommodation along the lake, most of which are hunting camps on the reservoirs’ North-Western shore. For the bold adventurists with a great appreciation for the wastelands, there are cabins and vacation rentals, as well as camping grounds. Don’t forget to take your bug spray with you, otherwise the blackflies and mosquitos will give you a hard time.
Although the weather is harsh in the wintertime, it might be the best time to visit. Besides taking picturesque photos of the lovely lake and its frozen surroundings, you can also go dog-sledding, skiing and riding snowmobiles. The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) can also be seen in the region. Hunting and fishing are the most popular summer activities.
The Smallwood Reservoir area was inhabited by the Naskapi and Innu people before the first Europeans, John Mclean and Erland Erlandson arrived in 1839. The region was first mapped by Father Babel, an Oblate missionary, and later was made in more detail by Albert Low, in 1895, a mapping which was part of the Dominion Geological Survey.
The first evaluation of the province happened in 1942, when building a dam in the remote place was considered too expensive and too difficult. Thanks to the advancement of technology, more than 20 years later, the construction of the first levels began, in July of 1967 by Acres Canadian Bechtel of Churchill Falls.
Before the building process began, they drained the area with the Churchill River, affecting many interconnected lakes, such as Ossokmanuan, Lobstick and Michikamau lakes. The reservoir requires not one dam, but 88 dikes to function properly and prevent overflow, the highest of which is 36 meters tall, and the longest being 6 kilometers. The project took nine years to be ready, between 1966 and 1974, and was accomplished 5 months ahead of scheduled completion.
Canada’s largest hydroelectric plant can be found here, the Churchill Falls Plant, which powers much of the city of Quebec, and controls the water level.