North America > Canada

Williston Lake: The Largest Reservoir in British Columbia

lakeWilliston Lake
countryCanada
surface area1,719 km2
maximum depth166 m
average depth44 m
lake typeReservoir
length251 km
width155 km
catchment area71,707 km2
altitude659 m
volume75 km3
inflowsPeace, Finlay, Omineca, Ingenika, Ospika, Parsnip, Manson, Nation, Nabesche
outflowsPeace River
shore length1,558 km
mixing typeDimictic
settlementsMackenzie
residence time737 days
frozenNovember to May
dam height183 m
dam year1967
average discharge1,168 m3 / sec.

Williston Lake Information and Facts

Williston Lake is a 251-km long and 155-km wide reservoir located in the Northern Interior of British Columbia in Canada. The lake occupies an area of 1,761 km2 and is located at an altitude of 671 meters. It is the largest reservoir in British Columbia and the seventh largest reservoir in the world by volume.

History and Uses

The lake is the result of the W. A. C. Bennett Dam, constructed on the Peace River in 1968. It was named after Ray Gillis Williston, who was the Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources between 1956 and 1972. He advocated in favor of the development of a pulp economy from the unused forests in the Interior of British Columbia, which coincided with some hydroelectric energy projects by the government.

In the municipality of Mackenzie, located on the Parsnip Reach of the lake, the spruce forests found on the shores supply pulp mills and sawmills. Williston Lake is also frequently used for transporting timber to these mills.

Geography and Surroundings

Williston Lake lies in the basin of the upper Peace River, which backs into the Rocky Mountain Trench, where the Parsnip and Finlay rivers meet at Finlay Forks to form the Peace River.  Its main tributaries are the Finlay, Omineca, Ingenika, Ospika, Parsnip, Manson, Nation and Naesche rivers, as well as two larger creeks, the Clearwater and the Carbon. The reservoir comprehends three reaches: the Peace Reach (formerly known as the Peace Canyon), the Parsnip Reach and the Finlay Reach. The latter two are the lowermost basins of the rivers with the same names. Numerous provincial parks can be found along the shores of the lake, such as the Muscovite Lakes Provincial Park, the Butler Ridge Provincial Park, the Heather-Dina Lakes Provincial Park and the Ed Bird-Estella Provincial Park.

Tourism and Recreation

The easiest road access to reach Williston Lake is via Hudson’s Hope located at the head of the dam. Some of the most popular summer activities are boating, swimming, water skiing, as well as fishing. One can go fishing on their own if they have the mandatory permit to do so, or participate in an organized fishing trip. The most popular catches are rainbow trout, lake trout, kokanee, dolly varden and northern pike. Tourists can also go horseback riding for a couple of hours, or even participate in tours lasting up to three days, organized by Williston Lake Resort. Similar one- and two-day canoe tours are also organized at the resort. Wildlife watching and hiking in the nearby provincial parks are also beloved pastimes.

Some of the best winter activities are snowshoe running and ice fishing. You can get to your fishing hole either by foot or with the help of a snowmobile.

Williston Lake Fish Species

Rainbow trout
Lake trout
Kokanee
Dolly Varden trout
Northern pike