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There’s A Ghost Town Hidden Under This Super Popular Alberta Lake

Posted on June 12, 2024 by Britanny Burr

When you visit Banff, there are some staple attractions you need to see. One of those is checking out Lake Minnewanka. While you float on those stunning alpine waters and gaze out at the surrounding mountains, what you might not know is what's beneath the surface.

The story of Minnewanka Landing began in the late 1800s. Once a bustling resort town, Minnewanka Landing was constructed to cater to tourists and mountain adventurists who visited the area to enjoy its beauty and natural surroundings. In 1912, a log hotel known as the “Beach House” was built along the shores of Lake Minnewanka, and shortly thereafter, a summer village was established that featured four avenues and three streets. The small village boasted hotels, cottages, and restaurants and offered sailing tours on two cruise boats–the “Lady of the Lake” and “Daughter of the Peaks.” Today, all that remains of Minnewanka Landing is a sunken ghost town preserved in the frigid depths of Lake Minnewanka.

Lake Minnewanka, located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, is well known for its stunning natural beauty. It is surrounded by the Canadian Rockies and an abundance of wildlife, making it a popular destination for those seeking relaxation and adventure in nature. The lake, which stretches over 28 kilometres in length, is the second-longest lake in the Canadian Rockies and provides numerous recreational opportunities. Described as one of the most intact submerged villages ever to be discovered in Canada, Minnewanka Landing can now only be visited by venturing into its icy waters.

The town’s fate changed in 1941 when the lake was dammed to increase its capacity as a reservoir for a hydroelectric power plant to supply power to nearby Banff and Calgary. This caused the lake’s water to rise, ultimately submerging Minnewanka Landing under nearly 30 meters of water. The buildings, streets, and artifacts of daily life were left intact beneath the lake, preserved by the cold, clear, glacial waters. This transformation turned the lake into a reservoir, expanding its size significantly and altering the landscape forever. The damming project was part of a broader effort during World War II to ensure a steady supply of electricity for the war effort and the growing population of Alberta.

Today, Minnewanka Landing is a hidden treasure for skilled divers, offering a unique underwater experience where divers can explore the remnants of the town, including foundations of buildings, sidewalks, and even relics left behind by its residents. The site serves as an eerie and fascinating window into the past, encapsulating a moment in time preserved beneath the lake’s surface. Divers often report the surreal experience of swimming through the streets of a town lost to time, where everyday objects like bottles, cans, and tools can still be found, offering a poignant reminder of the town's vibrant past.

Visitors can cruise the lake aboard Lake Minnewanka Cruise, charter their journey by kayak, canoe, or motorboat, and of course, explore its shores on foot. Lake Minnewanka is one of Banff’s most popular tourist destinations, and the parking lot fills up quickly. Consider taking free public transportation on board the Roam bus from downtown Banff. The lake area offers a variety of trails for hiking and mountain biking, picnic areas, and opportunities for fishing and wildlife viewing. In the winter, the lake and its surroundings become a serene, snow-covered landscape, attracting cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Ultimately, Minnewanka Landing stands as a testament to the rich history and enduring allure of the Canadian Rockies. Its story continues to captivate and inspire those who seek to uncover the mysteries hidden beneath the surface of Lake Minnewanka, reminding us of the ever-changing nature of our world and the enduring legacy of the past.

Britanny Burr is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the Great West Media & Southern Alberta Newspapers Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. The Hot Summer Guide is a special feature about summer activities, bucket list adventures, staycation options, road trips, attractions, events, and road trip-worthy food & beverage destinations across Alberta. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

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