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Fortunes Made on Lake and Land

The construction of a rail corridor in 1914 spawned new enterprises including timber, mink ranching and commercial fishing, plus a variety of retail businesses.

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Widewater was synonymous with Alberta’s fur trade for over four decades.

More than a hundred local familes made their living raising mink along the southern shores of Lesser Slave Lake, where plentiful stocks of fish were caught or bought for feed. In a given year, roughly 35,000 of these creatures were raised on the ranches of Widewater, Canyon Creek and Slave Lake. Combined, these mink represented a value exceeding half a million dollars (about nine million in today’s dollars).

By the late sixties, a decline in fur demand and the discovery of oil in the region signalled the end of mink ranching. Thus began the process of "pelting out" (culling the females, selling the pelts and and closing the farms).

Most traces of the mink farms, fishing boats and supporting businesses have been lost to time. Today, Widewater is a quiet lakefront subdivision where residents can enjoy a relaxed rural setting within an easy commute to work.

In the winter, dog teams often were used to transport passengers and supplies. With the opening of the railway line from Edmonton to Slave Lake in 1914, boat transportation and dog trains steadily declined.

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A Vital War-Era Corridor

Highway No. 2 was constructed parallel to the railway line in 1931. As you drive along the comparatively modern Southshore Drive, you’re retracing part of the original highway.

These rail and road arteries proved strategically advantageous to the American military as it rapidly built the Alaska Highway during the Second World War. In 1964, the railway was further extended to Hay River in the Northwest Territories. This provided a strategic link for barges carrying supplies via Mackenzie River to Canada’s Arctic and returning south with natural resources.

Annual Pilgrimage for Sports Enthusiasts

The Widewater Athletic Association was known for its Sports Days each June. These popular three-day events drew sports teams and spectators from across Alberta.

Since 1960, the ball diamonds just to the east of this campsite have been the site of numerous regional baseball tournaments. Men’s, women’s and minor baseball teams came from Barrhead, Lac La Biche, Swan Hills, High Prairie, Faust, Kinuso, Slave Lake, Athabasca, Wabasca, Peace River and elsewhere. Crowds could partake in bocce, bingo or cribbage, or enjoy buttered corn on the cob as they watched their teams play. An evening dance often capped off the weekend.

We have volunteers to thank for giving land, labour and funds to the athletic association, which in turn helped build local infrastructure including parks, playgrounds, ball diamonds, and a recreation complex.

A New Life For Old Stones

In 2023, the MD of Lesser Slave River and Alberta Environment and Protected Areas worked jointly to remediate the remnants of a century-old commercial dock offshore of the fish hatchery in Canyon Creek. During this project, crews dredged 137 dumptruck loads of rocks that had been used to protect and anchor the dock. These rocks were then cleaned, sorted to remove wood or metal shards, and transported here to help build the Widewater campground. Repurposing old materials to enhancea new environment is a great example of resourceful community building.

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