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Lake Winnipeg is a very large ( ) lake in central North America, in the province of Manitobamarker, Canadamarker, about north of the city of Winnipegmarker. It is the largest lake within the borders of southern Canada, and it is part of the most undeveloped and pristine large watershed of southern Canada.

It is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in Canada, but it is relatively shallow (mean depth of excluding a narrow deep channel between the northern and southern basins. It is the eleventh-largest freshwater lake on Earth. The east side of the lake has pristine boreal forests and rivers that are being promoted as a potential United Nations World Heritage Park. The lake is elongated in shape and is from north to south, with remote sandy beaches, large limestone cliffs, and many bat caves in some areas. Manitoba Hydro uses the lake as one of the largest reservoirs in the world. There are many islands in the lake and most are undeveloped and pristine.


The lake's watershed measures about , and covers much of Albertamarker, Saskatchewanmarker, Manitobamarker, northwestern Ontariomarker, Minnesotamarker, and North Dakotamarker. Some of its tributaries include:

Lake Winnipeg drains northward into the Nelson Rivermarker at an average annual rate of 2,066 cubic metres per second (72,960 cu ft/s), and forms part of the Hudson Baymarker watershed, which is one of the largest in the world. This watershed area was historically known as Rupert's Land when the Hudson's Bay Company was chartered in 1670.


A Hudson's Bay Company post on Lake Winnipeg, circa 1884

Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitobamarker are remnants of prehistoric Glacial Lake Agassizmarker. The area between the lakes is called the Interlake Region, and the whole region is called the Manitoba Lowlands.

It is believed that Henry Kelsey was the first European to see the lake in 1690. He adopted the Cree language name for the lake: wīnipēk (ᐐᓂᐯᐠ), meaning "muddy waters". La Verendrye referred to the lake as Ouinipigon when he built the first forts in the area in the 1730s. Later, the Red River Colony to its south took the lake's name for Winnipegmarker, the capital of Manitoba.

Lake Winnipeg lies along one of the oldest trading routes in North America to have flown the British flag. For several centuries, furs were traded along this route between York Factorymarker on Hudson Baymarker (which was the longtime headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company) over Lake Winnipeg and the Red River Trails to the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Saint Paul, Minnesotamarker. This was a strategic trading route for the First British Empire. With the establishment of the Second British Empire that occurred after Britain's loss of the Thirteen Colonies, a quite significant increase in trade occurred over Lake Winnipeg between Rupert's Land and the United Statesmarker.

Water conditions

Because of its long, narrow shape, the lake exhibits a variety of interesting wind and wave effects, including waves of up to one metre in height at its southern shore, a process called seiche. This occurs when prevailing northerly winds blow along the length of Lake Winnipeg, exerting a horizontal stress on its surface. Surface waters move in the direction of the wind and pile up along the leeward south shores.

Furthermore, water depths are known to be extremely variable at the south end of the lake. Many of the recreational beaches on the southern end of the lake feature rustic, seasonal piers for swimmers. It is not uncommon to be able to walk off the end of one of these piers one day into more than waist-deep water, then return a few days later to the same spot to find the water only ankle deep, or even exposed sand.

Setups greater than 1 m above normal lake levels have been recorded along many of southern Lake Winnipeg's recreational beaches, and the associated high waves with their uprush effects have caused considerable storm damage, backshore flood and shoreline erosion. The highest setups occur in the fall, when the northerly winds are strongest.

Algae population and pollution

Lake Winnipeg is suffering from many environmental issues such as an explosion in the population of algae, caused by excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus seeping into the lake.


Communities on the lake include Grand Beachmarker, Lester Beach, Rivertonmarker, Gimlimarker, Winnipeg Beachmarker, Victoria Beachmarker, Pine Falls, Manigotagan, Berens River, Bloodvein, and Grand Rapidsmarker. A number of pleasure beaches are found on the southern end of the lake, which are popular in the summer, attracting many visitors from Winnipeg, about 80 km south.


Lake Winnipeg has important commercial fisheries. Its catch makes up a major part of Manitoba's $30 million-a-year fishing industry.


Because of its length the Lake Winnipeg water system and the lake itself was an important transportation route in the province before the railways reached Manitoba. It continued to be a major transportation route even after the railways reached the province. In addition to Indian canoes and York boats, several steamboats plied the lake, including Anson Northup, City of Selkirk, Colvile, Keenora, Premier, Princess, Winnitoba and Wolverine.


  1. Great Canadian Lakes
  2. International Lake Environment Committee
  3. $1.1M for Lake Winnipeg - Winnipeg Free Press
  4. Canada’s sickest lake, MacLean's Magazine
  5. Manitoba Water Stewardship - Fisheries


  • Canadian Action Party (2006) Canadian action party release on devils lake ruling
  • Casey, A. (November/December 2006) "Forgotten lake", Canadian Geographic, Vol. 126, Issue 6, pp. 62-78
  • Chliboyko, J. (November/December 2003) "Trouble flows north", Canadian Geographic, Vol. 123, Issue 6, p. 23
  • Economist, "Devil down south" (July 16, 2005), Vol. 376, Issue 8435,. p. 34
  • GreenPeace, " Algae bloom on Lake Winnipeg" (May 26, 2008). Retrieved February 2, 2009
  • Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, "Ottawa asked to help block water diversion project: devils lake outlet recommended by U.S. army corps of engineers" (October 20, 2003), Vol. 76, Issue 198,. p. 3
  • Sexton, B. (2006) "Wastes control: Manitoba demands more scrutiny of North Dakota’s water diversion scheme", Outdoor Canada, Vol. 34, Issue 1, p. 32
  • Warrington, Dr. P. (November 6, 2001) " Aquatic pathogens: cyanophytes"
  • Welch, M. A. (August 19, 2008) "Winnipeg’s algae invasion was forewarned more than 30 years ago", The Canadian Press
  • Macleans (June 14, 2004) "What ails lake Winnipeg" Vol. 117, Issue 24, p. 38.
  • Wilderness Committee (2008) " Turning the tide on Lake Winnipeg and our health"

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