BY EVAN VERCHOMIN
Around 1911, Canadian Northern Western Railway was very active building stations in Sylvan Lake, Eckville and Leslieville. CNWR, which later became Canadian National Railway, gave notice of looking into building an enormous summer hotel at Sylvan Lake, comparable to Banff Springs Hotel. The plan was later abandoned at the onset of World War I.
Alberta Central Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway and CNR were competitive forces transporting coal from the east side of the Rockies to various markets in Alberta. Coal was a necessity for survival especially during winter months.
In building a railway west of Red Deer, CPR built a line south of CNR, but building the line on wet lands close to Cygnet Lake and beyond was difficult. CNR became the surviving railway even to this day.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Sylvan Lake developed many summer resort cabins. Calgarians considered Sylvan as their first choice. Edmontonians enjoyed the proximity of Pigeon Lake, Wabamun Lake, Lac Ste. Anne, Cooking Lake, and many others, but the water quality of Sylvan Lake was the draw.
A boxed story in Sylvan Lake News of July 1951 was headed “A Problem and a Solution”. It pointed out that next to the federal parks at Banff and Jasper, Sylvan Lake had the greatest number of summer visitors of any resort in the province. Early slogans for the lake were “The Bathtub of Alberta”, “Beauty Spot of Alberta” and “A Town For All Seasons”. It may have been said that the lake was “The Jewel of Central Alberta”.
In the article, “The Development of Sylvan Lake as a Summer Resort”, by Dr. Bill Parsons, he states, “in 1974 Eli Murto obtained permission to develop a strip of land with a single row of lots on the lake two miles west of Half Moon Bay. This was named Kuusamo Krest. This was the last subdivision before county councils put a moratorium on subdivision along the lake front. It was considered that further building along the shore would disrupt the ecology of the lake.
With time, Sylvan Lake has had a gradual increase in population. In 1916, as a village, the population was 115. As a town, Sylvan Lake, between the years, 1956, 1976 and 1979, the population increased by 2,231. During the years 1993 to 2012 there was a dramatic increase of 8,230. The latest census, albeit somewhat lacking, is 13,015. Many tenants were unavailable to the count so one can assume a figure of 13,700.
Addition of summer villages and backlot residences would add four to five thousand people although this is a rough estimate. With the economic driver of oil and gas industry, it’s possible to envision a population of all of Sylvan Lake to be 30-40,000 by 2025. This increase is somewhat alarming regarding the prize, the water quality of the lake. Far more stringent rules on developments may be the answer. Riparian areas and forest are being threatened by poor land use in the watershed.
In the publication, “Living Near Urban Lakes”, by Sarah Weaver Kipp, she states “the edge where land and water meet is one of the richest, most productive ecological zones on earth. That is why shorelines are called “the Ribbon of Life”.
In a natural landscape 10 per cent of rainwater flows overland, while a developed landscape with mowed, fertilized lawn has 30 per cent or more flow overland surface runoff with impending erosion probably with phosphorus and nitrogen draining into the streams and lake. Riparian areas just back of the water are ideal for arctic and fox willows, dogwoods, cotoneaster and caragana, most of which can be trimmed seasonally.
In Maude Barlow’s publication, “Our Great Lakes Commons”, she states that scientists have blamed the proliferation of zebra and quagga mussels for the die off of large numbers of migratory birds over the Great Lakes. Loons are especially threatened. Boaters in and out of the province should routinely inspect their boats.
In closing the writer suggests people read the following: “The Shoreline Primer” published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and “Living By Water” from Nature Alberta.
The writer would like to give thanks to Sylvan Lake Archives, Marion Thompson, Steve Dills of Sylvan Lake News and Dave Brunner.
Evan Verchomin is a director at large of Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society and a resident of the Summer Village of Birchcliff.