Lake Minnewanka: Alberta’s underwater ghost town has deep history

Click to play video: 'A visit to Lake Minnewanka’s underwater ghost town'
A visit to Lake Minnewanka’s underwater ghost town
WATCH: One of Banff National Park’s star attractions, Lake Minnewanka is known for it’s awe-inspiring views, crystal blue water and being nestled between towering mountain peaks. But as Sarah Offin reports, there is much more to this lake than its outward beauty – Oct 3, 2022

Lake Minnewanka, Alta., is a sacred place, visited for centuries by Indigenous communities.

The glacier-fed water of the lake nestled among the Rocky Mountains was said to heal physical and mental ailments.

“There’s a mountain pass that they used to follow to come into the lake,” described Stoney Nakoda elder Watson Kaquitts. “That lake had healing powers.”

Today, the natural wonder is a tourist hot spot with a rich history that lies beneath.

“This is one of the most intact submerged villages – underwater villages – in Canada,” said Steve Malins, cultural resource management advisor with Parks Canada.

In the 1890s, Minnewanka Landing was a bustling, lakeside resort town. It’s a place that can now only be visited by venturing into the frigid waters.

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“There are a bunch of tourists… who call specifically requesting to come dive the sunken ghost-town of Minnewanka Landing,” said John Harcus, the course director and owner of Calgary Scuba.

And while he cautions that divers can’t exactly pull up a seat at the old saloon to visit with long-lost cowboys, he describes a visit to what remains underwater as a surreal experience.

A former hotel site, a number of cottages and early dam technology from 1912 can be found at about 60 feet below the surface.

“It’s quite well-preserved because of the cold water,” said Harcus. “You can actually still see the grain in the wood of the timbers as you swim alongside the side of the dam.”

The last remaining dam was built at Lake Minnewanka in 1941. As the water rose, what was left of the townsite slipped away into the depths of the crisp mountain lake.

“It was actually the War Measures Act that superseded the National Parks Act to create better hydro-electric power to what really is a reservoir to supply power to Banff and Calgary,” said Malins of how the lake was created.

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Natural floods in recent years have greatly reduced visibility in the lake, but for advanced divers, and for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Lake Minnewanka still holds an ability to connect to something deeper.

Elder Kaquitts says the Indigenous connection to the lake has withstood the test of time.

“The spirituality and the powers is still there. We believe.”

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