“There’s an underwater ghost town beneath Lake Minnewanka,” quips Hubby on our hike.
As I gaze at the jewel-tone waters of this Banff National Park gem, I exclaim back to my trivia king.
“Exactly where could an entire underwater town be hiding?”
“Under the water,” he nonchalantly throws back.
Yes I suppose that’s how submerged towns happen.
“The ghost village happened when the lake rose about 100 feet.”
I can appreciate increased water flow from the mountains, but the height of a 10 story building?
“In 1888 there was a log hotel, The Beach House, constructed on the shores of the lake. Likely now that would be somewhere out there in the middle,” explains my personal guide waving a finger toward the center of quiet lake.
“By the early 1900s, Minnewanka Landing was a summer resort with restaurants, wharves and even cruise boats!”
My historian goes on and on.
History of the Underwater Ghost Town
“Are we getting to the part about the sunken town yet?”
I moan as we walk along the shores of Minnewanka keen to get to the underwater ghost village part of the story.
“It’s all got to do with dams and electricity,” explains Hubby.
“Well that sounds like a dreadful combination. No wonder Minnewanka Landing got in trouble.”
In 1912, a dam was built to store water for a hydro electric plant. Then after a 20 years of arguing, between those wanting power development and those pressing for park protection, a second dam was built in 1941.
The Canadian government approved it under the War Measures Act. They proposed that the power was needed to supply the war effort.
Really how can he store this trivia in his brain?
“Can you imagine if today anyone suggested that a village in a Canadian National Park be covered up with water to provide power? ” I exclaim.
I have visions of thousands of protesters lining the streets of Banff as I write.
Lake of the Spirits – A home for over 10,000 years
Archaeological evidence of stone tools, suggests the original shores of Alberta’s Lake Minnewanka, served as camping and hunting grounds for as long as 10,000 years. The Stoney Nakoda people named the glacial lake Minn-waki or Lake of the Spirits.
Gale force winds that appear from nowhere, and blow mercilessly over the water, left the Stoney people fearing and respecting the resident spirits of the lake. Early European settlers went on to name it Devil’s Lake.
When the first Europeans explorers arrived to this area, now known as Banff National Park, native people were still living in the valley.
How can I see the underwater town beneath Lake Minnewanka?
The only way to see the the underwater ghost town, now 60 feet below the waters of Lake Minnewanka, is with scuba gear. Considering the temperature of a mountain lake being fed by glaciers, this option is unappealing to most.
Those brave souls who have made the plunge report all foundations are still present, along with railroad tracks, power towers and the original wharf.
The name, Lake of the Spirits, seems particularly fitting for those visiting the underwater ghost village.
More information on scuba diving in Lake Minnewanka and exploring the sunken town can be found on the Parks Canada website.
Other ways to experience Lake Minnewanka
Hiking Lake Minnewanka
From strolling beside the lake, to a 30 km slog, there are multiple hikes around this mountain lake with its underwater ghost town. During the summer months the area is busy with visitors and bears farther afield.
We suggest reading Leigh McAdam’s review of Lake Minnewanka hiking in the area before attempting anything beyond a lake side stroll. Her website Hike Bike Travel is an excellent resource for all hiking in Canada, with a special focus on Alberta.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise
The underwater ghost town is not visible from the surface of the glacial lake. However, a Lake Minnewanka boat tour is an easy way to experience the beauty of the surrounding mountains while learning about the history and geology of the area.
For more than a century, the Lake Minnewanka boat tours have given visitors some of the most extraordinary views of Canada’s first National Park.
A cruise on the waters, that hide the underwater town, is one of the most popular activities in Banff National Park. We recommend booking on line ahead of time.
More information on tour dates and times can be found here.
Lake Minnewanka Boat Rentals
For those feeling more adventurous, Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in Banff National Park that allows motorboats. Rental 16 foot aluminum motor boats are available for fishing or exploring the lake. (Fishing gear is not included)
The waters of Minnewanka are frigid and swimming is not recommended.
Kayaks and canoes are also available for rent or you can bring your own. Prices and more information on Lake Minnewanka rentals can be found here.
Where is Lake Minnewanka?
To reach this largest body of water in Banff National Park, travel 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the town of Banff. Follow Banff Avenue under Highway #1 and proceed along the Minnewanka Loop Drive.
From Calgary, take the first exit for Banff, then turn right onto Minnewanka Loop Drive.
Have you heard of an underwater ghost town? Or flooding of a village for hydro electric power?
Other articles you may be interested in reading