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Lake Diefenbaker, the largest reservoir in southern Saskatchewan, is developing a reputation as a favorite vacationland for visitors from all over Canada and the United States. The 106,000-acre lake provides plenty of room for all types of boating, sailing and fishing. Prevailing breezes along the 140-mile length of the lake make it a popular destination of windsurfers. Beach lovers enjoy swimming the shallows from one of Lake Diefenbaker's several public beaches. Power boating, house boating, pontooning, jet-skiing, tubing, water skiing, paddle-boating, canoeing and kayaking all have plenty of room to maneuver. One can even arrange for a lake cruise, since much of the shoreline is only accessible by water. Fishing is great year-round.
Several marinas along the nearly 500-miles of shoreline provide ample launch space and boat rentals. A free car ferry (Highway 42) takes travelers across the reservoir to avoid hundreds of miles in driving around the lake. In winter, the Ministry of Highways replaces the ferry with an ice road when the ice is thick enough for vehicle traffic. Fishermen come to the lake most often to fish for northern pike, walleye and rainbow trout, but as many as 24 other species of fish inhabit the waters. Fishing isn't limited to the summer season; the lake provides adequate ice cover in winter to support many ice fishermen and their assorted gear. Several provincial and regional parks grace the shoreline to provide camping, swimming and hiking activities for vacationers to enjoy.
Myriad species of wildlife and birds gravitate to the area around the large lake. Sand hill cranes use the immediate area on their migration corridor. The area is one of the few places left in North America where the whooping crane and the piping plover can still be found. Several rare birds are occasionally seen, including yellow-breasted chats, lark sparrows, and long-billed curlews. On occasion you may see ferruginous hawks, prairie falcons and golden eagles. Pronghorn antelope, white-tailed deer, mule deer, smaller animals such as beavers, badgers, rabbits, coyotes, ground squirrels, and reptiles like bull snakes and garter snakes inhabit the wide variety of habitats around the lake. Even moose are becoming a more common sight.
One park in particular, Douglas Provincial Park, holds a stretch of ancient but active sand dunes that pre-date Lake Diefenbaker by thousands of years. These sand dunes, although rare, are repeated at several places across the plains in both Canada and the United States. Consequently, the beach area at Douglas Provincial Park offers a sand beach unlike most other parks on the reservoir. The parks all offer nature trails that feature ecological areas of interest. Some provide interpretive guidance as well. Saskatchewan Provincial Parks are hardly what one would term rustic, although there are always a few primitive campsites with few amenities. Most parks provide camp stores, concession stands, plenty of showers, bathrooms and laundry facilities. At least one at Lake Diefenbaker has a golf course attached. Several other small parks, such as Outlook & District Regional Park and Prairie Lake Regional Park, offer even more access and space for camping and recreation.
Lake Diefenbaker is unusual in that the reservoir is formed by damming two rivers. Gardiner and Qu'Appelle Dams were built across the South Saskatchewan and Qu'Appelle Rivers respectively. The completion of the dams in 1967 diverted much of the flow of the South Saskatchewan River into the Qu'Appelle River outflow, alleviating both dangerous ice jams and spring flooding downstream in Saskatoon. With over 3.2 million acre-feet of usable water storage, the reservoir now provides over 45% of the drinking water for Saskatchewan's population, generates electrical power, and provides water for irrigation to much of the area. The northern reaches of the reservoir are about 70 miles south of Saskatoon, while the south-eastern arm lies around 120 miles north-west of Regina. This makes Lake Diefenbaker ideally located for much of the vacationing population of the Province and has helped to make it the popular destination it has become. A portion of the Trans-Canada Trail travels along the eastern shore of the lake and through two of the Provincial Parks.
The area around Lake Diefenbaker holds much historical significance in the settlement of Canada's Great Plains. Once the favored homelands of several bands of First Nations tribes, the area experienced both conflict and treaties during the great migration by Europeans into the area. Even before European mass movement, trappers regularly worked the area's streams and traded with the native population to supply the Hudson Bay Company. In an effort to increase the farming population, the Canadian government worked in conjunction with Canadian Pacific Railroad to recruit European settlers into the area. Agents from the various steamship lines, in conjunction with the railway, recruited immigrants in the villages of impoverished Eastern Europe and throughout the continent to come to the Plains Provinces and buy land for a very low cost. The Canadian Pacific Railroad still runs atop the Qu'Appelle Dam, through the lands that industrious immigrants from Russia, Finland, England, Germany, Poland and every other corner of Europe homesteaded. Combining these people with the Metis and First Nations tribes has made Saskatchewan a melting pot of cultures, architecture, interesting tales and haunting legends. Many a small town museum holds artifacts and stories of these immigrants and their trials, tribulations and successes.
A popular museum is the F. T. Hill Museum in Riverhurst at Palliser Regional Park. This small museum holds artifacts of early prairie farm life and is of interest to any history buff. Many small museums can be found in the towns located along Lake Diefenbaker and the Qu'Appelle River. The Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village and Museum, although not at Lake Diefenbaker (eight miles south of Moose Jaw), is a spectacular display of restored farm buildings, homes, shops, antique tractors and cars, and the fabulous ship built by homesick native of Finland, Tom Sukanen. The sad tale of Tom and his ship serves as the backdrop for the restored history encompassed in the village.
Rental accommodations exist in the towns along its banks of Diefenbaker Lake. Private rental cottages, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and resorts offer vacation rentals for visitors to enjoy. Some areas have RV space and building lots available for sale, and condos are under development in several spots. Real estate is available in many of the towns near the lakeshore, although there is little actual lakefront to be purchased due to government ownership of the reservoir. But water access is plentiful, launch facilities for private boats available at several marinas, and the views and nature trails are available to all. So if your idea of exciting nightlife is sitting around a crackling campfire listening to the coyotes howl, Lake Diefenbaker is the perfect place for your next vacation. Come and enjoy the prairie on Lake Diefenbaker.
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