Stuart Lake, BC: Home of the Carrier People

Stuart Lake, also known as Nak’albun, is a large lake in the Northern Interior of British Columbia, Canada, with more than 275 km of shoreline. The lake is relatively shallow, with an average depth of 26 meters. It has a length of 66 km and a width of 10 km.

Stuart Lake Stats

Lake NameStuart Lake
Surface area357.880
Maximum depth95.0
Average depth66.4
Lake typeNatural
Catchment area14172.40
IslandsBattleship Island, Jennie Chow Island, Baynes Island, Chunsi Island, Noodat Island, Hobson Island
Shore length260.19
SettlementsFort St. James
Residence time1910.9
Average discharge143.891

Geography and Hydrology

Stuart Lake is part of a chain of lakes, the Stuart-Trebleur-Takla Lake System, which is the largest migration route for salmon in British Columbia. The area is also famous as the home of some of the best wilderness sceneries in the country. Grizzly bears, wolves, mules, white-tailed deer, lynxes, foxes, beavers, martens and otters are some of the most frequently seen animals in the region. Parts of this rich area are protected through parks, such as the Mount Pope Provincial Park, the Stuart Lake Marine Provincial Park and the Rubyrock Lake Provincial Park.

The main settlement in the area is the town of Fort St. James, which lies near the lake’s outlet, the Stuart River. The town has several lumber mills and serves as the easiest access point through paved road to reach the lake.

The lake has a discharge of 4.1km3/year and is covered in ice from mid-December until mid-April.

History and Culture

The villages spread around the lake were once connected to the Dakelh villages found on Fraser Lake through an ancient land route called Nyan Wheti, which means “The Way Across” in Carrier languge. This path was part of a network of trails often referred to as the Grease Trail, used by the Dakelh peoples as a communication, trade and travel line.

The Dakelh-ne people were known as the Carrier people by the fur traders, which was a reference to the custom of widows who carried the ashes of their cremated husbands right until a traditional potlatch would be held. This group of indigenous people led a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and fed themselves by picking berries, hunting and fishing in the summer and icefishing and trapping in the cold winter months. The lake area is home to several Carrier groups, such as Nak’azdli, Yekoochet’en, Takla and Tl’azt’en.

The lake area is an important site in the history of British Columbia, since it is home to the oldest non-native settlement in the province, Fort St. James. James McDougall was the first foreigner who reached the lake in 1806. His explorations of the area were undertaken as an assistant to Simon Fraser, the British fur trader and explorer. He and other members of the expedition formed a North West Company trading post. They left behind a garrison, which was led by clerk John Stuart, after whom the lake was named. Its original name used to be Nak’albun, meaning Mount Pope Lake, after the mountain overlooking it. In 1865 Major Franklin Pope attempted to lay out a telegraph line to Siberia and ended up spending a night on the top of mountain. After this occurrence, locals started calling it Mount Pope.

Tourism and Leisure

Boating, swimming, sunbathin, fishing, waterskiing and camping are some of the most popular summer activities in the Stuart Lake area. Rainbow trout, char, lake trout and burbot fish are the most frequently caught fish. Snowmobiling, dog sledding and ice fishing are the most beloved winter activities.

Two provincial park campgrounds, Paarens beach and Sowchea bay, can be found on the southern shore of the lake, along with several other motels, lodges and private campgrounds. The Stuart Lake Fishing Derby is held every year in July, whilst the Caledonia Classic Dog Sled Races are held on the frozen ice every February.

Stuart Lake Map