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Qu'Appelle? Yes, the name of a group of four popular Southern Saskatchewan lakes is a French question. Qu'Appelle Lakes, also known as the Fishing Lakes, lie in the Qu'Appelle Valley about 40 miles northeast of Regina. Qu'Appelle translates as, "Who calls?" This name gives rise to yet a third name for the shallow natural lakes - the Calling Lakes! Local legend tells several versions of the stories of First Nation travelers hearing their names called while paddling across the lakes. Their response, in the French tongue of the many French trappers in the area, was 'Qu'Appelle?' The lakes, and the valley in which they lie, carry the name. And the legend is likely responsible for the name of one of those four water bodies: Echo Lake. Lake Katepwa's name likely originated from the Cree word "Kahtapwao" which means 'What is calling?" Mission Lake gained its name from the Catholic Mission at what is now Lebret. The mission became a residential school for First Nation children. Pasqua Lake was named after Chief Joseph Pasqua who formed what became the Pasqua First Nation tribe. Today, much of the lands surrounding the Qu'Appelle Lakes belongs to several First Nations bands. They also control the Echo Lake Dam.
The string of four lakes was created by the same glaciers that created the valley itself. The Qu'Appelle River is little more than a slow-moving creek for much of the year. The lakes provided prime hunting, fishing and camp locations for several First Nations tribes, including the Metis, descendants of European trappers and their native wives. Like a scar cut deep across the gently rolling dry prairie, the Qu'Appelle Valley provided shelter from the winds and scarce water and fuel for both livestock and human needs. The valley, with its four connected lakes, served as the perfect location for early trappers and eventually the Hudson Bay Company outpost and store. Fort Qu'Appelle, as the store's location came to be known, occupied a prime spot between Echo and Mission Lakes. Here, much of the early history of Saskatchewan was written - in treaties, trade and settlement.
The lakes are fed not only by the Qu'Appelle River but also by springs from underground aquifers and numerous coulees and streams that drain water from the surrounding prairie. The Qu'Appelle River eventually flows into the Assiniboine River which runs through Brandon, Manitoba and joins the Red River at The Forks in Winnipeg. Much of the water in the Qu'Appelle Lakes then is seasonal, with large variations in water levels from season to season. The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority works to control the water levels to avoid flooding events, because the Fishing Lakes lack an effective outlet for excess water. Sometimes when there is a sudden large snowmelt, too much water drains into the lakes, causing them to flood. Amazing though it may seem, not all of the water comes from upstream; much percolates upward from overloaded aquifers.
Only 40 miles from Regina, the Qu'Appelle Lakes have become Saskatchewan's 'cottage country' in the last century. Two water control structures, originally developed for irrigation purposes, raised the water levels to a more standard level. The development of the Qu'Appelle Dam upstream also has the effect of regularizing the river's flow. Although much of the shoreline is First Nation Reserve lands, two public parks have been created to provide access to the growing numbers of visitors and tourists: Katepwa Point Provincial Park is a favorite summer spot for cottagers, campers and day visitors, as is Echo Valley Provincial Park on Pasqua Lake.
Between the two parks, visitors enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, waterskiing, picnicking, hiking, and horseback riding. In winter, the parks are available for ice-fishing, cross-country skiing and down-hill skiing. Although Katepwa Park is day use only, Echo Valley Park offers three separate camping areas, some with all amenities. A nature-lover's favorite, over 225 species of birds are found in the valley. White-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and antelope are often sighted. Other portions of the shorelines are inhabited by youth camps and private homes and cottages. Fort Qu'Appelle is the largest town, but small resort settlements exist at Katepwa Beach, Katepwa South, Lebret, Fort Qu'Appelle, Fort San, and B-Say-Tah.
Fishing is popular. The fish hatchery at B-Say-Tah, begun in 1913, produces a wide range of native and exotic species, and distributes 40 to 50 million fish per year in over 200 bodies of water throughout Saskatchewan. Walleye, northern pike, perch, dog fish, white fish and bigmouth buffalo-a form of sucker- are prime targets for anglers. Although all four Qu'Appelle Lakes are long and narrow, their combined volume holds an impressive 445,999 acre-feet of water contained within 59 miles of shoreline.
Because the current is sluggish and the surrounding area heavily farmed, Qu'Appelle Lakes have suffered from an excess of nutrients in recent years leading to algae blooms. Swimming sometimes becomes difficult from the beaches in late summer. Several conservation groups are working together with local farmers to alleviate the problem and are seeing some success.
Although the Hudson Bay Company is long gone, Fort Qu'Appelle is the largest town along the Qu'Appelle Lakes. Hudson Bay Company lives on in memory at the Fort Qu'Appelle Museum, located on the site of the original trading post and fort. Fort Qu'Appelle attracts visitors year round, with a variety of restaurants, hotel and motel rooms, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and a 42-site campground right in town. Fort Qu'Appelle offers a variety of shops, an active snowmobile community with nearly 220 miles of groomed trails, and a ski resort with nine runs just south of town. The town attracts ice fishermen in winter also. Nearby Lebret also has a museum detailing the history of the area, with exhibits of early pioneer tools and household items. Between these towns and the resort communities, visitors will find all of the necessary groceries, gas and other amenities needed to ensure their stay is a comfortable one. Private vacation rentals are often found along the shores of the Qu'Appelle Lakes, and real estate is available for sale in the immediate area. A more perfect spot for a Saskatchewan vacation can't be found at any time of the year. Plan your visit to the historic Qu'Appelle Lakes today!
Pasqua Lake: 4,999 acres, average depth: 19 feet, maximum depth: 51 feet, volume: 97,999 acre-feet, shoreline: 24 miles
Echo Lake: 3,101 acres, average depth: 32 feet, maximum depth: 72 feet, volume: 98,996 acre- feet, shoreline: 10 miles
Mission Lake: 1,900 acres, average depth: 27 feet, maximum depth: 56 feet, volume: 51,002 acre-feet, shoreline: 9 miles
Katepwa Lake: 4,075 acres, average depth: 47 feet, maximum depth: 76 feet, volume: 198,002 acre-feet, shoreline: 16 miles
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