Brûlé Lake

Alberta. Lake: Athabasca River drainage
Widening of Athabasca River north of Jasper
53.2833 N 117.85 W — Map 083F05 — GoogleGeoHack
Name officially adopted in 1944
Official in Canada

Appears as “Burnt L” on Milton and Cheadle map of 1865.

In 1813 the North West Company established a post on Brûlé Lake as a “provision depot with the view of facilitating the passage of the mountains through Athabasca Pass.” By 1817, Jasper House was on the west shore ofthe lake, according to Ross Cox [1793–1853].

James Hector [1834–1907] wrote of his explorations in January 1859:

At three o’clock we reached the point where the Athabasca emerges from “Lac à brulé,” which lies at the base of the mountains, which rise from its western shore at least 3,000 feet. This lake was swept by such a violent wind from the south that we could hardly make way against it over the smooth ice. Its eastern shore is formed of immense sand-hills; and as we reached its upper part we found the ice so covered with the same material that the dogs could hardly pull the sleds.

Frederick Arthur Ambrose Talbot [1880–1924] makes the following comments on the constriuction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in the area around 1911:

Here and there the builders were confronted by tre- mendous difficulties, such as in the vicinity of Brule Lake, at the entrance to the Rockies. This sheet of water is in reality an enlargement of the Athabaska River, the southern bank being deeply indented, and the soil a light sand. The railway skirts the southern bank, and in order to preserve the grade, heavy embankment work was requisite. The remarkable feature of this sheet of water is that it is always swept by a wind which at times assumes the fury of a gale. Even at the time of my arrival in mid- summer, when the air a few hundred yards inland was oppressively still, a keen breeze played across this lake. This peculiarity is attributed to the fact that the expanse lies in the path of the funnel formed by the passage of the river through the mountains, and through this constricted channel the wind is forced to make its way like a huge draught, to expend its force upon this area of water. Be that as it may, its existence resulted in a pretty battle between Nature and the engineers, and the struggle for supremacy lasted a long time.

As fast as the sand was excavated from a cutting and dumped to form an embankment, it was picked up by the wind and driven back again. On this short length of line around the lake there are two notable pieces of work, a cutting from which 87,000 cubic yards were removed, and an embankment built up of 117,000 cubic yards. The broad, high surface of the latter suffered from the full force of the wind, which picked up the sand in dense clouds and drove it irresistibly forward into the cut. At last the engineers erected a series of screens which deflected the eddying, circling wind laden with dust, the latter falling helplessly against these obstructions, and in time forming a natural protection to the cutting. So far as the slope of the embankment was concerned, the expedient of protect- ing its surface with scrub was adopted and found to be highly successful.


  • Cox, Ross [1793–1853]. Adventures on the Columbia River, including the narrative of a residence of six years on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, among various tribes of Indians hitherto unknown: together with a journey across the American continent. 1831. University of British Columbia Library
  • Hector, James [1834–1907]; Palliser, John [1817–1887]; Spry, Irene Mary Biss [1907–1998], editor. The papers of the Palliser Expedition 1857-1860. Toronto: Publications of the Champlain Society XLIV, 1968. Internet Archive
  • Talbot, Frederick Arthur Ambrose [1880–1924]. The making of a great Canadian railway. The story of the search for and discovery of the route, and the construction of the nearly completed Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific with some account of the hardships and stirring adventures of its constructors in unexplored country. London: Seely, 1912, p. 193. Internet Archive
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