Mid-Canadian Boreal Forests, Part A: Central Alberta Lakes

Mid-Canadian Boreal Forests is new ecoregion established in the 2017 ecoregion delineation. It combined parts of the Canadian Aspen Forests and Parkland ecoregion with the Mid-Continental Canadian forests. The sites listed here include the former Mid-Continental Canadian forests as well as that portion of the Mid-Canadian Boreal forests that were formerly in the Canadian Aspen Forests and Parkland ecoregion. Most of these sites have a predominance of boreal forest features or jack pine vegetation on sand dunes rather than aspen forests alone. Along the Athabasca River are the Athabasca Oil Sands, which contain an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of oil, comparable in magnitude to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum.

National Sites

Fort Assiniboine National Historic Site (N54⁰20’ W114⁰46’) commemorates a 1923 fur trading post built by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The post was a crucial stopping point on the Klondike gold rush trail. It closed in 1807 and burned. There are no above-ground remains, but a museum and reconstructed fort is operated by Woodlands County. The site is on Route 661 off Route 33.

Lac La Biche Mission/Notre Dame des Victoires National Historic Site, Alberta (N54˚50’ W112˚5’), is northwest of Lac La Biche via Range Road 141A and 142A. The site is operated by the Lac La Biche Historical Society. In 1853, Hudson’s Bay Company established the exchange site for the Native, Metis, French, and British population. A Roman Catholic mission was also established here. A convent, church and farm outbuildings remain at the site. The site was designated a national historic site because it was the most important western mission and it had an important place in the fur trade as a hub of trade routes from the Athabasca-Mackenzie areas.

Meanook National Wildlife Area (N54⁰35’ W113⁰21’) is 214 ha southwest of Athabasca on Route 2, hosting boreal songbirds. The Meanook Biological Research Station of the University of Alberta is on site.

Rundle’s Mission National Historic Site (N53⁰5’ W114⁰9’) is on Pigeon Lake at the 1847 site of the first Protestant (Methodist) mission to the Cree people in the Rockies. The site operated until 1906. Today the Rundle’s Mission Society maintains a log lodge and interpretive boardwalk trail.

Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage National Historic Site (N53⁰41’ W114⁰26’) commemorates an event that takes place every year at a mission built in 1844 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Beginning in 1889, the first pilgrimage was organized. The bare-foot walk is penance to the miracle of healing. Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage is a place of spiritual, cultural and social rejuvenation for indigenous peoples.

The Trans-Canada Trail traverses the Mid-Continental Canadian Forests ecoregion between Athabasca (N54⁰43’ W113⁰17’) west to Smith (N55⁰14’ W113⁰49’). The Athabasca River from Athabasca downstream to the Northwest Territories boundary is a designated water route of the Trans-Canada Trail. From Fort Saskatchewan, the Trans-Canada Trail extends north and west to British Columbia and east to Saskatchewan. The Trail to British Columbia includes the Athabasca Landing Trail from Fort Saskatchewan to Athabasca (N54⁰43’ W113⁰17’) and the Peace River Trail from Athabasca to Smith (N55⁰14’ W113⁰49’). East of Fort Saskatchewan, the Trans-Canada Trail system includes the Sturgeon County Trail from Fort Saskatchewan to Redwater Provincial Recreation Area (N53⁰56’ W112⁰55’) and the Iron Horse Trail from Waskatenau (N54⁰4’ W112⁰48’) to Vilna (N54⁰7’ W112⁰0’) and on to Saskatchewan.

Victoria District National Historic Site (N54˚0’ W112˚28’) including Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site, commemorates a unique cultural landscape illustrating major themes in the development of the Canadian prairies—the fur trade, Metis settlement, missions, agricultural development, and Ukranian immigration.  The site was first established as a Methodist Mission in 1862 for the Cree Nation. The site was a traditional aboriginal river crossing. In 1864, Victoria Fort was built for the Hudson’s Bay Company. In addition to the mission site, the site interprets the contributions of the Metis people to the nation. The Metis were born of intermarriages of the Cree, Ojibwa, Salteau, French, and Scottish peoples. The settlement pattern consisted of long river lots fronting the Saskatchewan River. The river lots are still intact for 12 km along the river. Finally, there is a church and schoolhouse associated with Ukranian settlement in 1906. The site is on Route 855 at the North Saskatchewan River.

Provincial and Local Sites

The parks and natural areas designated by the province are grouped into rough geographical groupings for the purposes of the lists below. These groupings are for convenience and do not necessarily imply subdivisions of this ecoregion based on ecological characteristics. The southern extension includes a Central Alberta Lakes region to the west and south of Edmonton. Other groupings are the Athabasca-Pembina Rivers area to the north of Edmonton, the Lac La Biche-Smoky Lake Area to the northeast of Edmonton, and the northernmost Oil Sands area.

The Mid-Canadian Boreal Forests ecoregion includes a southern extension, which is a narrow transition area just to the east of the Rocky Mountain foothills near Wabamun, Pigeon, Gull, and Sylvan Lakes.

Alsike Bat Lake Natural Area is 115 ha in two tracts (west tract N53ᵒ14’ W114ᵒ32’; east tract N53ᵒ13’ W114ᵒ30’) on Township Road 492. Habitats are small marshy lakes, sedge meadows, cattails, and sphagnum bogs.

Battle Lake Natural Area (N52⁰56’ W114⁰12’) is 65 ha of upland aspen, white spruce, and balsam poplar mixed with wetlands of paper birch-Labrador tea and sphagnum moss habitats. It is on Range Road 22 at Township Road 460 south of Route 13.

Bilby Natural Area (N53ᵒ42’ W114ᵒ6’) is a 126-ha mostly upland tract with aspen, balsam, and hazelnut. It is east of Onoway and south of Route 37, on Kilini Creek.

Blue Rapids Provincial Recreation Area, managed by the Eagle Point-Blue Rapids Parks Council, is 3,623 ha along the North Saskatchewan River south of Drayton Valley. The park extends into the Alberta-British Columbia foothills forests ecoregion in the southern and western areas. The north end is at route 22 (N53⁰12’ W114⁰56’) and the south end is west of the Rose Creek confluence (N53⁰3’ W115⁰6’). River terraces and old river channels dominate the river corridor park.

Buck Lake Provincial Recreation Area (N53⁰1’ W114⁰48’) is 47 ha at the north end of Buck Lake, at the end of Township Road 470, providing lake recreation activities.

Buck Lake Creek Natural Area (N53⁰10’ W114⁰48’) is 170 ha of black spruce-Labrador tea peatland with aspen forests. There are steep terraces along Bucklake Creek, and the natural area is off Township Road 484.

Burtonsville Island Natural Area (N53⁰19’ W114⁰31’) is 328 ha of islands in the North Saskatchewan River, with old-growth balsam-poplar and white spruce.

Butcher Creek Natural Area (N51°58’ W114°25’) is 205 ha of riparian habitat in the floodplain with spruce and aspen vegetation. It is on the Red Deer River north (downstream) of Sundre.

Mount Butte Natural Area (N53⁰0’ W114⁰16’) is 64 ha on Township Road 464, including part of the Battle Lake shoreline. Vegetation is black spruce/larch fen and dwarf birch/willow shrubs.

Chedderville Natural Area (N52⁰11’ W114⁰45’) is 229 ha east of Route 22 along the Clearwater River. A braided floodplain complex is present.

Clearwater Ricinus Natural Area, Alberta (N52°5’ W114°51’), is 86 ha of aspen and poplar on the Clearwater River. The site is on Routes 22-54 west of Caroline.

Coyote Lake Natural Area is 321 ha in four tracts. It is the only known Alberta location of ducksmeal, a floating plant. Habitats include larch-black spruce-sphagnum peatland. The west tract is on Range Road 45 (N53ᵒ15’ W114ᵒ30’), the middle two tracts are on Township Road 494 (N53ᵒ15’ W114ᵒ32’), and the east tract is not accessible by road (N53ᵒ15’ W114ᵒ28’).

Dussault Lake Natural Area (N53⁰38’W114⁰50’) is a 56-ha tract east of Route 757 on Township Road 540. Vegetation includes black spruce-paper birch peatlands and sedge wetlands.

Eagle Point Provincial Park, managed by the Eagle Point-Blue Rapids Parks Council, is 1,962 ha along the North Saskatchewan River at Drayton Valley. The park extends into the Alberta-British Columbia foothills forest ecoregion in the south portions. The north end of the river corridor park is near Mishoe Creek (N53⁰20’ W114⁰49’) and the south end is at Route 22 (N53⁰12’ W114⁰56’). The park contains hills, river terraces, and rare plants accessible via 35 km of trails.

Lily Lake Natural Area (N53⁰43’ W114⁰39’) is 172 ha of rolling topography with aspen-balsam poplar-white spruce vegetation and wetlands with larch, Labrador tea, and dwarf birch.

Majeau Lake Natural Area (N53ᵒ56’ W114ᵒ23’) is 130 ha of upland aspen, balsam-poplar, willow shrubland, and black spruce/Labrador tea peatland.

Matthews Crossing Natural Area (N53⁰39’ W114⁰55’) is 311 ha on the Pembina River. Forests are of aspen and balsam poplar.

Modeste Creek Natural Area is 389 ha in 4 tracts north of Route 39. The rolling uplands include forests of aspen and balsam poplar. Creek banks have exposures of plant fossils. The north tract is on Bucklake Creek (N53⁰16’ W114⁰41’), the middle tract is on Poplar Creek (N53⁰14’ W114⁰42’), and the two southern tracts are near Carnwood on Poplar Creek (N53⁰13’ W114⁰41’).

Modeste Saskatchewan Natural Area is 403 ha in 5 tracts near the North Saskatchewan River. Forests are aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, and white spruce.  The easternmost 2 tracts (N53⁰18’ W114⁰37’) and the northernmost tract (N53⁰20’ W114⁰39’) are east of Route 759. The western 2 tracts (N53⁰18’ W114⁰43’) are on Bucklake Creek.

Open Creek Natural Area (N52⁰39’ W114⁰36’) is 65 ha on Route 53 west of Rimbey. Vegetation is larch-black spruce patterned muskeg.

Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is 443 ha in two tracts. The southern tract (N53⁰1’ W114⁰9’) features a campground and trails, while the northern Zeiner Campground (N53⁰4’ W114⁰10’) is a small campground on the lake.

Poplar Creek Natural Area consists of 4 tracts totaling 324 ha, with rolling upland aspen forest and wetlands with black spruce peatland and larch-birch fens. The northwest (N53⁰9’ W114⁰41’) and northeast tracts (N53⁰9’ W114⁰38’) are near Range Road 54. The central tract (N53⁰8’ W114⁰37’) is on Township Road 482, and the south tract (N53⁰4’ W114⁰41’) is south of Road 482.

Prefontaine-Brock Lakes Natural Area (N53⁰49’ W114⁰50’) is 190 ha on Range Road 63 east of Route 757. The rolling uplands and willow shrub wetlands make good moose and deer habitat. Nesting colonies of heron and cormorants are found on Lake Prefontaine.

St. Francis Natural Area (N53ᵒ19’ W114ᵒ33’) is 48 ha on the North Saskatchewan River.

Schrader Creek-Red Deer River Natural Area, Alberta (N51°57’ W114°26’), is downstream from Sundre on the Red Deer River.

Sundance Natural Area (N53⁰29’ W114⁰37’) is a coal lease area south of Wabamun Lake. The 129-ha tract contains aspen and white spruce forest.

Sundre Natural Area, Alberta (N51°46’ W114°42’), is 47 ha on the Red Deer River upstream of Sundre. Mature white spruce is found among braided river channels.

Sundre Red Deer Natural Area, Alberta (N51°46’ W114°38’)  is 14 ha of white spruce on steep slopes and flats upstream of Sundre.

Sylvan Lake Natural Area (N52⁰24’W114⁰14’) is 13 ha on Range Road 24 south of Route 12. This site is the location of three woodland boreal ferns which grow here at their southern limits. Excellent birdwatching is present on a levee and in a section of old growth trees, where pileated woodpecker may be seen.

Sylvan Lake Provincial Park (N52⁰19’ W114⁰6’) is 67 ha serving as the waterfront for the town of Sylvan Lake. The park is on Lakeshore Drive. A sandy beach and ice skating rink are part of the park.

Wabamun Lake Provincial Park (N53⁰34’ W114⁰26’) is a 231-ha tract on Route 16 about 65 km west of Edmonton. Outside of the park, coal deposits in this area have been mined for power plants on the lake, which use lake water for cooling. This warm water has been attractive to waterfowl, herons, and kingfishers as there is open water in the winter. The park includes boardwalks for hiking and birdwatching.

Welch Creek Natural Area (N52⁰36’ W114⁰37’) is 65 ha south of Route 53. There are black spruce-larch wetlands, patterned fen, and insectivorous plants.

to be continued with Athabasca-Pembina Rivers area