Celebrating Sylvan’s Centennial: Black bass stocked in 1908; other species since

Soon after the first settlers arrived around Snake Lake, there began talk of a grand summer resort

A day’s fishing at Sylvan Lake. This Dunnigan collection postcard shows 14 people gathered around a canoe which has been brought to shore. A display of a large catch of fish in the foreground

A day’s fishing at Sylvan Lake. This Dunnigan collection postcard shows 14 people gathered around a canoe which has been brought to shore. A display of a large catch of fish in the foreground

Soon after the first settlers arrived around Snake Lake, there began talk of a grand summer resort, particularly from the people of Red Deer.

Early newspaper reports spoke glowingly of the increasing crowds of people journeying to the lake.

“Snake Lake is destined to be the summer resort of Red Deer people. Every Sunday a large number go out for a day’s rest on the cool banks of that beautiful body of water. Bathing and boating are also in order,” said a story in the Red Deer Advocate, July 28, 1904.

A correspondent in the Red Deer Advocate a week later wrote “it is the district where the weary Red Deer people go to stretch their tired bodies on the banks of the lake, refresh their weary brains by listless recreation, and wash themselves in the clear and cooling waters of Snake Lake.

“This is bound, in the near future, to be a summer resort. Handy to town, suitable situation and nature’s own arrangements, it speaks big things for the future.”

“Tenting seems to be the rage out here.”

By November the Advocate reported “the surveyors are out now surveying the road directly to the lake. They also intend surveying the town site for the summer resort of Snake Lake. We expect a big town there soon, post office, store and all complete.”

The following summer, the community was being referred to as Sylvan Lake.

Early reports indicated settlers were easily able to find enough fish in the lake to feed themselves in their initial years on the land.

References to fishing became more prevalent as well. Miss Florence Fulmer caught a fine pike weighing ten pounds, according to a note in the Advocate.

Then the August 11, 1905 issue reported. Rev. C. Hjelt, the head of the Finn Settlement, caught a few days ago in the waters of Sylvan Lake, two fine lake trout each weighing over 13 pounds.

As talk of enhancing the community as a summer resort continued there was also discussion about how to improve the fishing situation.

Captain W. H. Cottingham, of the Dominion Land Office, was reported to have received eight tanks of black bass to be placed in Sylvan Lake in October 1908.

“The black bass is a gamey fish and will be a splendid addition to the waters of our inland lake,” stated the Red Deer News story. In a 1912 letter, Cottingham reported with “the cheerful assistance of Mr. W. L. Gibson, he planted some 1,000 small and two full grown Black Bass in Sylvan Lake” on 6th October 1908. “I have kept close watch on these fish, especially in Sylvan Lake, and have never been able to learn that any of them were found dead on the lake shores. From my experience of the habits of Black Bass, I would expect them to take to the northwest end of Sylvan Lake, and I am firmly convinced they may be found there.” Anxious to learn of the success, or otherwise, of the venture, he offered to pay $1 for a Black Bass taken from the lake.

Among the first items discussed by the new village council in 1913 was a fish gate on the stream exiting Sylvan Lake to keep fish from leaving.

That idea was dashed by Mr. A. B. Nash, the Fishery Inspector who attended the first council meeting of 1914. “There will be no fish gate allowed at the entrance to the creek that runs into Burnt Lake as that would close an ideal spawning ground, and there is no drop from the latter lake into the Red Deer River that cannot be easily surmounted by returning fish,” he told council. “Mr. Nash believes also in the existence of bass … although up to now that has been very scarce at the Lake. He thinks that in a year or two hence, when the fish had had time to increase, bass will be freely caught. White fish he also considered a good proposition.”

In late April, eight people pled guilty for illegal fishing in the stream between Sylvan Lake and Burnt Lake. They’d been caught by Nash with 400 fish in a wagon box, along with eight spears, three rifles and four lanterns. At that time the closed season for coarse fish, which includes pike, pickerel and perch, was from April 1st to May 15th.

Pickerel were to be the next addition to Sylvan Lake. Red Deer Commissioner A. T. Stephenson, in 1920, brought the Chief Inspector of the Dominion Fisheries department to the lake.

“The Inspector was delighted with the Lake, and engaged to send next year a man with several million of pickerel ova to stock the Lake,” reported the Advocate of July 9, 1920. “Mr. Davidson sees no reason why this fish should not do well in these waters; the pike already there will not seriously bother the pickerel, which is a good food fish …”

However the following spring, Red Deer’s Board of Trade was first assured pickerel fry would be shipped from Gull Harbor Hatchery on Lake Winnipeg, as soon as navigation opens, then a month later that had changed.

“We are much disappointed at the letter from the Fishery Inspector on this question. If the cost of having a tank car provided to bring the fry to Sylvan Lake is not too much it might be advisable to have the Sylvan Lake and Red Deer boards pay this cost if it is necessary to do so to get the Lake stocked properly.”

Then at a June Board of Trade meeting it was reported “the secretary continues to bombard the Department re: stocking Sylvan Lake with pickerel fry as promised.”

Two years later Lt.-Col. J. D. Wilson, Inspector of Fisheries in Alberta, indicated “he will assist in getting Sylvan Lake stocked with pickerel.”

He was concerned, though, about extensive netting taking place at the lake.

Reporting of Wilson’s trip to the lake, Stephenson told the Board of Trade’s February 1922 meeting, “it appeared somewhat ridiculous to ask the Dept. of Fisheries to spend time and money in stocking Sylvan Lake with fish when the people there do not make any attempt to stop netting, which I am told is done extensively each winter, and in some cases, fish caught in nets are fed to hogs … If the people of the Lake will undertake to provide proper inspection each winter to stop this netting, the matter might be further considered, but unless this will be undertaken by them, it is useless to spend any money in trying to improve the fishing there, which should be a great attraction to summer visitors.”

That summer, D. A. Richardson, Fishery Overseer, Calgary went to Sylvan Lake to investigate reports of wholesale slaughter of fish proceeding up the creek to spawn. As a result “ten to twelve people will be required to give an explanation of their actions to the Court”.

Efforts of the Red Deer Board of Trade continued. In September 1923, Stephenson, as secretary-treasurer, reported Mr. Rodd, superintendent of Fish Hatcheries at Banff visited Sylvan Lake and was likely to recommend stocking it with rainbow trout.

“We assured him that any expense connected with the stocking of the lakes would be provided. He recommended the placing of a fish screen at the outlet of Sylvan Lake in the spring to prevent jack fish going down into Burnt Lake where they die, and he stated that the Village would undertake to install this screen.”

Considerable discussion took place at the meeting and “members feel that game fish in the lakes would make them much more attractive”.

Rodd was advised by his department that there is still a chance of getting Sylvan Lake stocked with black bass, according to a report of the Board of Trade meeting in May 1924. “They advise against putting pickerel in at present.”

Then in May 1926 Rodd advised Stephenson the department is proposing to put two and a half million pickerel fry into Sylvan Lake this spring.

E. S. Hogg, president of Red Deer Fish and Game Association reported in June 1928 that one million pickerel fry were on their way from Regina to Sylvan Lake. “They will arrive here on Friday evening, and the Fish and Game Association are looking for trucks to get the pickerel to the Lake.”

Ten years later, W. G. Spargo, head of the provincial fisheries department visited Sylvan Lake to announce that commencing in the spring of 1939, 10,000 fingerling pickerel will be released in Sylvan Lake, and a similar amount will be placed in 1940, ‘41, ‘42, and ‘43. “Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200,000 pickerel eggs have been put in the lake this year,” said the September 1938 story.

“About 60,000 perch were put into Sylvan Lake in July 1942. It was to be the start of a regular restocking program.

“In conjunction with the restocking of the lake with fish, the Chamber of Commerce has been active in establishing fish “hides”. Five new hides have been put in this year between the mouth of the creek which runs through the golf course and First Point,” said a Sylvan Lake News report.

In the same issue, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored work to treat a section of the lake with copper sulphate to eliminate the cause of bather’s itch.

“The area treated covered a shore frontage of 500 feet extending from the edge of the water out into the lake to the breakwater and about 50 to the east and west of same.”

Lake trout were planted in Sylvan Lake in 1947 and in 1949 30,000 rainbow trout eggs had been planted.

Reports in 1960 indicated Sylvan Lake Fish and Game Association was endeavouring to get the lake stocked with rainbow trout however tests indicated it was not suitable for that species but the provincial fish and game branch planted two and a half million pickerel eggs “as an experiment, to ascertain how the fish will thrive here”.

The following year pickerel and perch fishing “is at its best”.

“Pickerel eggs planted in 1960 are about ten to twelve inch fish now, and an additional 1,120,000 have been planted this year.”

1963 saw 1,265,000 sprouted pickerel roe planted in June.

Mel Kraft, fish biologist gave an interesting talk and answered questions at the Sylvan Lake and District Fish and Game Club, April 6, 1970. He said that nine million fish of seven different species had been tried in Sylvan Lake at different times and so the Lake had a good trial of the different species. Lake Whitefish probably could be put in Sylvan Lake but were more of a commercial fish than a game fish.

Rainbow trout would probably live in Sylvan Lake but they wouldn’t reproduce.

This article attempts to capture the highlights of fish stocking over the years but is not to be considered all-inclusive because of the extent of the research undertaken.-sd