David Thompson, a great mapmaker, surveyor and fur trader arrived at the mouth of the Lesser Slave River on April 28, 1799. He became the first documented European to visit this lovely lake. Using a sextant, compass and two watches he surveyed much of Alberta and drew our lake on the Great Map he made after his retirement.
Thompson established a trading post for the North West Company at the junction of the Lesser Slave River and the Athabasca River. In 1802 it was moved to the original Slave Lake Town site (now referred to as Old Town). The Hudson Bay Company also established a post nearby and a rivalry to control the fur trade began. Later, the two companies combined.
Treaty 8 was signed by the original 7 signatories on the banks of the lake in 1899. One signatory was the Sawridge First Nation, who were part of the Slave Lake community. By 1900 the Northern Transportation Company ran a steamboat called “Northern Light”. It moved people and goods from Fort Edmonton, through Athabasca and on to the Peace country. The Sawridge community was a stopping point for the boat. 1914 marked the arrival of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway, ending the steam boating business. It did however, allow the logging industry to flourish and logs were hauled to Chisholm’s sawmill.
Sawridge became Slave Lake in 1923, named for people in the area who were regarded as strangers by the more recently arrived Cree traders. The word ‘Lesser’ was added to the name when it became clear there was some confusion between Lesser Slave Lake and Great Slave Lake. A devastating flood in 1935 forced the relocation of the town to the present location. By 1945 the community had a population of 300 people.
The building of the bridge over the Athabasca River at Smith brought more people to the area. In 1964 when oil was found in the region the population began to grow again. The oil and gas industry, the wood products industry, the tourism industry and the government services now support a regional population of about 10,000 people. The citizens are ethnically diverse with English, Cree, French, Arabic, Tagalog, South Asian and other languages represented.
The Lesser Slave Lake region is a great place to visit. Our small town community offers many amenities and supports outdoor adventures. Whether to challenge minds and bodies, refresh spirits or to renew and rejuvenate through nature’s beauty we invite you to visit and enjoy our unique natural area.