Profil de site: lac Minnewanka
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This long and lovely lake has many names and many faces, many moods and many stories to tell. In the past century, man's interventions have, step-by-step, deepened, lengthened and alteredit. But Lake Minnewanka - "Water of the Spirits" asthe Stoney people named it - has seen it all before.
Once, perhaps 75,000 years ago, Minnewanka was just the largest of a series of lakes fed by the ancestral Bow River. The river flowed into the lake's western end from a course which took the water around the north perimeter of Tunnel Mountain and along the later valley of the Cascade River. Slowly, as the climate cooled,the water level began to change, gradually dropping as huge glaciers grew to the north and west. At last, about 25,000 years ago, a tongue of ice pushed down the valley, bringing a long silence of the life of the lake.
When the glaciers at last began to shrink more than 10,000years later, the "Water Spirits" were reborn. The receding ice deposited large moraines at the western end of the Minnewanka valley and for a time, as melt water poured down the Cascade River from mountain glaciers to the north, the lake filled the valley, growing much deeper than it is now.
This Glacial Minnewanka was just another brief entry in the lake's long history however, and by 10,500 years ago, the water had dropped below its present dammed and regulated level and Clovis people were living along a shoreline that now is submerged for much of the year.
Today there are five back country campgrounds along the north shore and it's likely that many areas along this undulating south facing lake shore were used as campsites by early Albertans as well. One of those most studied by archaeologists lies at the place where the Cascade River once poured from Stewart Canyon intothe lake. Most of the site is underwater now, but a section of it is annually exposed in early spring, before the snow pack melts in the high mountains. Since the 1970s, archaeologists have worked onthe site intermittently and have charted a record of occupation spanning 100 centuries.
Little wonder. The lake is long, deep (under today's controlled conditions 24 kilometres or 15 miles long and 142metres or 466 feet deep - the longest and second-deepest lake in the mountain parks) and bountiful. Lake trout in excess of 20kilograms (44 pounds) were often caught when Europeans first began visiting the lake a little more than 100 years ago. Along its shores, elk, deer and mountain sheep are abundant (as are bears)and the lake is on a golden eagle flyway, a spring and fall migration route from summer nesting territories as far north as Alaska and Siberia to wintering grounds in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming.
Though contained and captured in the last century, Minnewankais in many ways what she always was, a free spirit of the water.
GETTING THERE: From Banff, follow Banff Avenue across theTrans-Canada Highway and continue northeast 5.5 kilometres (3.4miles) to the Lake Minnewanka parking area at the west end of the lake.
Reprinted from Barbara Huck and Doug Whiteway's In Search of Ancient Alberta with kind permission from Heartland Associates, Inc.
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