Great Slave Lake

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Not to be confused with Great Lakes.
For the lake in Alberta, Canada, see Lesser Slave Lake.
Great Slave Lake
NASA photo of Great Slave Lake and Lake Athabasca
Location Northwest Territories
Coordinates 61°40′N 114°00′W / 61.667°N 114.000°W / 61.667; -114.000 (Great Slave Lake)Coordinates: 61°40′N 114°00′W / 61.667°N 114.000°W / 61.667; -114.000 (Great Slave Lake)
Lake type remnant of a vast glacial lake
Primary inflows Hay River, Slave River
Primary outflows Mackenzie River
Catchment area 971,000 km2 (374,905 sq mi)[1]
Basin countries Canada
Max. length 469 km (291 mi)[2]
Max. width 203 km (126 mi)[2]
Surface area 27,200 km2 (10,502 sq mi)[1]
Average depth 41 m (135 ft)[1]
Max. depth 614 m (2,014 ft)[1]
Water volume 1,580 km3 (380 cu mi)[1]/
Shore length1 3,057 km (1,900 mi)[1]
Surface elevation 156 m (512 ft)[1]
Frozen November - mid June[3]
Settlements Yellowknife, Hay River, Behchoko, Fort Resolution, Lutselk'e, Hay River Reserve, Dettah, N'Dilo
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

The Great Slave Lake (French: Grand lac des Esclaves) is the second-largest lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada (after Great Bear Lake), the deepest lake in North America at 614 metres (336 ftm; 2,014 ft),[1] and the tenth-largest lake in the world. It is 469 km (291 mi) long and 20 to 203 km (12 to 126 mi) wide.[2] It covers an area of 27,200 km2 (10,502 sq mi)[1] in the southern part of the territory. Its given volume ranges from 1,070 km3 (260 cu mi)[4] to 1,580 km3 (380 cu mi)[1] and up to 2,088 km3 (501 cu mi)[5] making it the 10th or 12th largest.

The lake shares its name with the Slavey First Nations. Towns situated on the lake include: Yellowknife, Hay River, Behchoko, Fort Resolution, Lutselk'e, Hay River Reserve, Dettah, and N'Dilo. The only community in the East Arm is Lutselk'e, a hamlet of about 350 people, largely Chipewyan Aboriginals of the Dene Nation and the now abandoned winter camp/Hudson's Bay Company post, Fort Reliance. Along the south shore, east of Hay River is the abandoned Pine Point Mine and the company town of Pine Point.


North American Aboriginal Peoples, such as the Tłı̨chǫ, were the first settlers around the lake, eventually settling in places such as Dettah, which had been a fishing camp. British fur trader Samuel Hearne explored the area in 1771 and crossed the frozen lake, which he initially named Lake Athapuscow (after an erroneous French speaker's pronunciation of Athabaska). In 1897-1898, the American frontiersman Charles "Buffalo" Jones traveled to the Arctic Circle, where his party wintered in a cabin that they had constructed near the Great Slave Lake. Jones's exploits of how he and his party shot and fended off a hungry wolf pack near Great Slave Lake was verified in 1907 by Ernest Thompson Seton and Edward Alexander Preble when they discovered the remains of the animals near the long abandoned cabin.[6]

In the 1930s, gold was discovered there, which led to the establishment of Yellowknife, which would become the capital of the NWT. In 1967, an all-season highway was built around the lake, originally an extension of the Mackenzie Highway but now known as Yellowknife Highway or Highway 3. On January 24, 1978, a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite, named Kosmos 954, built with an on board nuclear reactor fell from orbit and disintegrated. Pieces of the nuclear core fell in the vicinity of Great Slave Lake. 90% of the nuclear debris was recovered by a joint Canadian Armed Forces and United States Armed Forces military operation called Operation Morning Light.[7]

Geography and natural history[edit]

Mackenzie River drainage basin showing Great Slave Lake's position in the Western Canadian Arctic

The Hay, Slave and Taltson Rivers are its chief tributaries. It is drained by the Mackenzie River. Though the western shore is forested, the east shore and northern arm are tundra-like. The southern and eastern shores reach the edge of the Canadian Shield. Along with other lakes such as the Great Bear and Athabasca, it is a remnant of the vast glacial Lake McConnell.

The East Arm of Great Slave Lake is filled with islands, and the area is within the proposed Thaydene Nene National Park. The Pethei Peninsula separates the East Arm into McLeod Bay in the north and Christie Bay in the south. The lake is at least partially frozen during an average of eight months of the year. During winter, the ice is thick enough for semi-trailer trucks to pass over using ice roads. Until 1967, when an all-season highway was built around the lake, goods were shipped across the ice to Yellowknife, located on the north shore. Goods and fuel are still shipped across frozen lakes up the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road to the diamond mines located near the headwaters of the Coppermine River at Lac de Gras, Northwest Territories.

A ferry was required to reach Yellowknife when the ice was not present in a solid sheet along Highway 3 where it crossed the Mackenzie River. The ferry usually ran from mid-May until January with a three- to four-week period (from mid-April to mid-May) between the closing of the ice road and the start of ferry service.[8] However, the completion of the Deh Cho Bridge across the Mackenzie November 30, 2012 put an end to the need for the ferry. It is the longest jointless bridge in North America.[9]

The main western portion of the lake forms a moderately deep bowl with a surface area of 18,500 km2 (7,100 sq mi) and a volume of 596 km3 (143 cu mi). This main portion has a maximum depth of 187.7 m (616 ft) and a mean depth of 32.2 m (106 ft).[10] To the east, McLeod Bay (62°52′N 110°10′W / 62.867°N 110.167°W / 62.867; -110.167 (McLeod Bay, Great Slave Lake)) and Christie Bay (62°32′N 111°00′W / 62.533°N 111.000°W / 62.533; -111.000 (Christie Bay, Great Slave Lake)) are much deeper, with a maximum recorded depth in Christie Bay of 614 m (2,014 ft)[1]

On some of the plains surrounding Great Slave Lake, climax polygonal bogs have formed, the early successional stage to which often consists of pioneer black spruce.[11]

South of Great Slave Lake, in a remote corner of Wood Buffalo National Park, is the Whooping Crane Summer Range, a nesting site of a remnant flock of whooping cranes, discovered in 1954.[12]


Rivers that flow into Great Slave Lake include (going clockwise from the community of Behchoko);[13][14]

  • Emile River
  • Snare River
  • Wecho River
  • Stagg River
  • Yellowknife River
  • Beaulieu River
  • Waldron River
  • Hoarfrost River
  • Lockhart River
  • Snowdrift River
  • La Loche River
  • Thubun River
  • Terhul River
  • Taltson River
  • Slave River
  • Little Buffalo River
  • Buffalo River
  • Hay River
  • Mosquito Creek
  • Duport River
  • Marian Lake

Ice road[edit]

Great Slave Lake has one ice road known as the Dettah ice road. It connects the Northwest Territories capital of Yellowknife to Dettah, a small First Nations fishing community also in the Northwest Territories.

April 28, 2012 on Yellowknife Bay. The surface melt begins to make transportation more difficult to and from the houseboats near Jolliffe Island.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hebert, Paul (2007). "Encyclopedia of Earth". Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories. Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  2. ^ a b c "Google Maps Distance Calculator (From Behchoko to the Slave River Delta it is 203 km and from the Mackenzie River to the furthest reaches of the East Arm it is 469 km)". Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  3. ^ NAV CANADA's Water Aerodrome Supplement. Effective 0901Z 7 March 2013 to 0901Z 3 April 2014
  4. ^ Schertzer, William M.; Rouse, Wayne R.; Blanken, Peter D.; Walker, Anne E. (August 2003). "Over-Lake Meteorology and Estimated Bulk Heat Exchange of Great Slave Lake in 1998 and 1999" (pdf). Journal of Hydrometeorology (American Meteorological Society) 4 (4): 650. Bibcode:2003JHyMe...4..649S. doi:10.1175/1525-7541(2003)004<0649:OMAEBH>2.0.CO;2. Retrieved 2011-01-21. The surface area of Great Slave Lake is 27,200 km2 with a total volume of 1,070 km3 (van der Leeden et al. 1990) 
  5. ^ Great Slave
  6. ^ "Buffalo Jones". The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online, Michigan State University. Retrieved September 4, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Operation Morning Light". Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  8. ^ Open and Close Dates for the NWT Ferry System
  9. ^ Bridge linking N.W.T. capital with rest of Canada opens
  10. ^ Schertzer, W. M. (2000). "Digital bathymetry of Great Slave Lake". NWRI Contribution No. 00-257, 66 pp. 
  11. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (2008), Stromberg, Nicklas, ed., Black Spruce: Picea mariana, 
  12. ^ "Whooper Recount". University of Nebraska. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 
  13. ^ "Natural Resources Canada-Canadian Geographical Names (Great Slave Lake)". Retrieved 2014-12-20. 
  14. ^ "Atlas of Canada Toporama". Retrieved 2014-12-20. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Canada. (1981). Sailing directions, Great Slave Lake and Mackenzie River. Ottawa: Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans. ISBN 0-660-11022-9
  • Gibson, J. J., Prowse, T. D., & Peters, D. L. (2006). "Partitioning impacts of climate and regulation on water level variability in Great Slave Lake." Journal of Hydrology. 329 (1), 196.
  • Hicks, F., Chen, X., & Andres, D. (1995). "Effects of ice on the hydraulics of Mackenzie River at the outlet of Great Slave Lake, N.W.T.: A case study." Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. Revue Canadienne De G̐ưenie Civil. 22 (1), 43.
  • Kasten, H. (2004). The captain's course secrets of Great Slave Lake. Edmonton: H. Kasten. ISBN 0-9736641-0-X
  • Jenness, R. (1963). Great Slave Lake fishing industry. Ottawa: Northern Co-ordination and Research Centre. Dept. of Northern Affairs and National Resources.
  • Keleher, J. J. (1972). Supplementary information regarding exploitation of Great Slave Lake salmonid community. Winnipeg: Fisheries Research Board, Freshwater Institute.
  • Mason, J. A. (1946). Notes on the Indians of the Great Slave Lake area. New Haven: Yale University Department of Anthropology, Yale University Press.
  • Sirois, J., Fournier, M. A., & Kay, M. F. (1995). The colonial waterbirds of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories an annotated atlas. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Wildlife Service. ISBN 0-662-23884-2

External links[edit]