The earliest inhabitants called this body of water the Snake
Lake. David Thompson, the notable Canadian map-maker and
explorer, called it Methy Lake in 1814. John Palliser, another
explorer and geographer, referred to it as the Swan Lake in
1859. It and the settlement on its south end have been known as
Sylvan (from Latin, referring to wood) Lake since the early
Sylvan Lake saw its first settlers just before the 19th
century ended. Alexander Loiselle and his son Louis moved to the
area from Michigan, bringing with them the materials to build a
sawmill. Once the timber was cut, more settlers came. Among the
first were the Archambeaus from France, who built their home
from local stone. It was a copy of the house they left in the
old country. The Archambeaus’ goats occupied the top floor until
a fence went up. The house still stands, as does another Sylvan
Lake "stone castle", the Balleu house (1910). The Belleu house
is now a coffee shop.
Soon after the Archambeaus came, Dr. Tanche from Lille,
France brought 30 French families to Sylvan Lake (1906). The
doctor’s intention was to build a "true socialist colony". He
had everybody sharing one large barn, cattle included. His dream
endured less than two years, and then it went the way of all
utopias. Half of the families returned to France. The other half
got a homestead each somewhere else. What of the doctor? He left
his Sylvan Lake homestead in 1917 and returned to France where
When the Northern and Northwestern Railway came (1911),
Alexander Loiselle branched out into the hospitality industry
with his Alexander Hotel. The Varsity Dance Hall (1930) was a
magnet for revellers from across the province.
Sylvan Lake has grown from 185 people (1923) to 8,500 (2004).
It has developed into a resort "town for all seasons" and
attracts approximately 1,000,000 visitors each year.