Old Wives Lake

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Old Wives Lake
Old Wives Lake as seen from space.png
Old Wives Lake, as seen from space.
Location Saskatchewan
Coordinates 50°05′N 106°00′W / 50.083°N 106.000°W / 50.083; -106.000Coordinates: 50°05′N 106°00′W / 50.083°N 106.000°W / 50.083; -106.000
Type saline
Primary inflows Wood River
Basin countries Canada

Old Wives Lake is a shallow saline lake in south central Saskatchewan, Canada, about 30 km southwest of Moose Jaw. The lake is fed by the Wood River but seasonal water relatively flattened the terrain, and as such results in significant mudflats. A Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established at the lake on March 9, 1925. This lake, in conjunction with Reed Lake and Chaplin Lake, forms a site of hemispheric importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. It was designated in April 1997, and is "one of the most important inland sites for migratory birds in North America".[1][2] A variety of First Nations oral traditions explain the origin of the lake's name. At various times during the lake's human history, it has attracted interest from several First Nations tribes, duck hunters, military trainers, sodium sulfate producers, conservationists and birdwatchers.

A town of the same name (Old Wives) is located north of the lake on Highway 363.


According to a Cree tradition[3] recounted by Métis guides accompanying the North West Mounted Police in 1874, sometime around 1840 a band of Cree hunters followed a herd of bison into Blackfoot territory and made camp near the lake. Blackfoot scouts discovered this band and attacked. Although the Cree were able to defend themselves, they anticipated an attack by a larger Blackfoot war party the next morning. The older women volunteered to stay behind to tend the fires through the night in the hope of fooling the Blackfoot into believing that they were not abandoning their camp to escape. Using this diversion as cover, the rest of the Cree successfully fled back to their home territory in the Qu'Appelle valley. When the Blackfoot arrived that morning they found only the old women, whom the Blackfoot killed in vengeance.[4][5] This commonly recited version of the lake's naming has been commemorated by a historical marker situated beside Highway 2 near the lake.[6] A variant telling of this narrative states that the Blackfoot warriors were so impressed by the women's courage that they left them alone and allowed them to rejoin their own people.[7] Another First Nations oral tradition describes how a band of Assiniboine fleeing from pursuing Blackfoot warriors abandoned the old women in their band who could not keep pace with everyone else. The women continued their effort to escape by wading across the lake. However, they misjudged the water's depth and drowned.[7] An Assiniboine tradition associates the name with a battle which occurred at the lake around the beginning of the 19th century in which Assiniboines vanquished their Blackfoot enemies.[8] According to some First Nations traditions, the spirits of the dead women continue to haunt a small island in the lake from which their voices can be heard at night.[5][7][9]

Some early accounts describing the region state that the name "Old Wives Lake" was originally applied to both the lake that currently bears that name and to nearby Chaplin Lake.[10][11] In 1861, the British politicians Sir Frederick Johnstone and Henry Chaplin visited the area to hunt bison, antelope and elk for sport. Explorer John Rae, who accompanied the expedition, named area lakes in honor of its members: The lake now called Old Wives Lake became Johnstone Lake and Chaplin Lake received the name by which it is still known.[12] Although the Canadian government officially adopted the designation "Johnstone Lake" in 1886;[5] the First Nations peoples along with early ranchers and homesteaders in the area continued to refer to it as Old Wives Lake. In response to a petition by area residents to restore its traditional name, the Canadian board on geographical names formally renamed it Old Wives Lake in 1953.[4]


Tipi rings and other artifacts discovered near Old Wives Lake attest to a First Nations presence in the area long predating their contact with Europeans.[5] With the arrival of European settlers, ranchers and homesteaders occupied the area surrounding the lake.[4] Until hunting was prohibited in the Old Wives Lake bird sanctuary, duck hunters gathered at the lake in the autumn to hunt the plentiful wild ducks and geese.[13] During World War II a bombing and gunnery air training school established under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan operated near the lake's shoreline, three miles east of Mossbank. Throughout the war, part of the lake and its surroundings were incorporated into a 23-mile bombing range used by trainee pilots.[14] For some decades in the 20th century, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, sodium sulfate was harvested from the lake by diverting water into nearby Frederick Lake for evaporation.[3] The sodium sulfate plant operated until 1977.[15] In 1975, two Canadian Forces military training aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision over the lake which caused one of the aircraft to crash into it. The two pilots in this aircraft were able to parachute out and inflate emergency rubber dinghies enabling them to remain afloat until their rescue by a helicopter based out of CFB Moose Jaw.[16] The lake is currently a popular destination for birdwatchers; a 2.4 kilometer walking trail has been constructed along the lake's south shore, along with viewing and picnic areas.[17]

Drought conditions caused the lake to dry up completely in 1937 and 1988.[18] In certain years, including 1951,[19] 1959,[20] 1980[21] and 1997,[22] large numbers of ducks were found dead at the lake due to outbreaks of botulism.


  1. ^ "Saskatchewan Migratory Bird Sanctuary Facts". Environment Canada. Retrieved 2011-04-06. 
  2. ^ "Chaplin Old Wives Reed Lakes". Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Retrieved 2011-04-06. 
  3. ^ a b Marylin, Lewry (2006). "Old Wives Lake". Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Canadian Plains Research Center. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c "Old Wives Lake: Name officially decided for site on which old legend is based". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 19 November 1953. p. 3. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d "The Legend of Old Wives Lake". Tourism Saskatchewan. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  6. ^ "Markers and Ox-Carts Recall Old Legends". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 10 June 1965. p. 24. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c MacEwan, Grant (9 May 1964). "Our Natural Heritage: Old Wives' Lake". The Calgary Herald. Calgary, Alberta. p. 3. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  8. ^ Kennedy (Ochankugahe), Dan (15 August 1953). "Wah-gan-Kana Tee: The legend of Old Wives Lake". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. p. 13. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  9. ^ Longman, Harold (7 August 1962). "Rural Route: Their laughter still mocks enemy". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. p. 2. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  10. ^ Cowie, Isaac (1913). The Company of Adventurers: A Narrative of Seven Years in the Service of the Hudson's Bay Company during 1867-1874. Toronto: William Briggs. p. 263.  Isaac Cowie writes, "There are two Old Wives' Lakes, connected by a creek. These were named on maps, respectively, after the Rt. Hon. Henry Chaplin and Sir Frederick Johnstone, who hunted buffalo near them in 1861."
  11. ^ Annual Report (1885). Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada. 1. Dawson Brothers. 1886. p. 22.  "[Old Wives Lake] is divided into two parts, each of which is about twenty miles long. The two divisions are united by a sluggish stream, about ten miles in length, into which Old Wives' Creek empties."
  12. ^ Gillespie, Greg (2007). Hunting for Empire: Narratives of Sport in Rupert's Land, 1840-70. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780774813549. 
  13. ^ "Beaches and Lakes Haven For Summer". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 18 June 1936. p. 33. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  14. ^ "Air Warriors: In the Making at Mossbank School". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 9 May 1941. p. 3. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "The Colourful Past of Mossbank & District". Mossbank Town Website. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  16. ^ "Pilots and plane end up in Old Wives Lake". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 22 May 1975. p. 1. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  17. ^ "Birdwatching: Old Wives Lake Nature Area". Mossbank Town Website. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  18. ^ "Drought Threatens Duck Species As Their Nesting Areas Dry Up". The New York Times. New York City. 28 June 1988. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  19. ^ "Thousands of ducks dying". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 20 August 1951. p. 2. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  20. ^ "Botulism outbreak kills 3,000 ducks". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 4 August 1959. p. 9. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  21. ^ "Large number of dead ducks found at lake". The Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. 26 August 1980. p. 3. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  22. ^ Pollick, Steve (23 October 1997). "Bird botulism killing off many thousands of ducks". Toledo Blade. Toledo, Ohio. p. 37. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 

External links[edit]