The lake after which this particular settlement is named is
indeed cold. The English name is a direct translation from Cree.
A Cree legend tells the story of a young man, on the way to his
beloved, who disappeared on the lake one night many winters ago.
A huge fish, the kinosoo, snapped his canoe in half. Not
surprisingly, Cree people didn’t dare cross the lake for a long
time after that. The one-and-a-half metre long trout that the
first settlers routinely caught surely descended from the
kinosoo. Who knows, the kinosoo itself may still be hunting in
the chilly waters.
Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault is said to have visited Cold
Lake in 1844, the same year he founded the mission at Lac Ste
Anne. A French cook, J. C. Soucy, built the first log house in
1907. Soucy couldn’t read or write, but excelled at getting
money from government officials for the frequently needed road
In 1909, settlers started coming from France, Quebec,
Massachusetts, and Minnesota. They trapped and fished, some even
started fish-filleting factories. In essence, the settlers did
what they had to do in order to survive, even if that meant
crude surgery. When Charles Lirette’s toes froze one winter, he
was left with little choice but to sterilize a sharp axe in the
fire and put his feet on a block of wood to eliminate the danger
of gangrene. Lirette was up and about a few days later, checking
his trap line. He trapped until the 1920s. The 1935 hailstorm
destroyed his son’s crops, killed most of the poultry, and badly
injured cattle and horses. The hailstones went through wooden
roofs made of timber over two-and-a-half centimetres thick.
By 1917, there were enough children in the community to open
a one-room school. Two years later, a general store opened. The
early 1920s saw the community population rise to 50. The next
decade marked the opening of a Roman Catholic church. The
settlers forged good relations with the local population:
"Indians were friendly, helpful and we made friends with many of
In the early 1950s, the area’s "isolation, gravel, water, and
blue skies" met the specifications of the Royal Canadian Air
Force (RCAF) for an air base. 4-Wing Cold Lake is now the
largest employer in this city of over 12,000 people. The base’s
personnel and families make up over 40 percent of the
population. Tourism, the oil industry, and, consequently, the
retail trade are continuing to flourish.
Treasured Scales of the Kinosoo: Cold Lake, 1905-1980.
Historical Society of Cold Lake and District. Cold Lake: 1980.