BANFF, Alberta-Nicholas J Parkinson Staff Writer
For tourists looking for an alternative way to travel through Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, the Minnewanka Lake Cruise is an excellent option and a great way to experience the Rockies in the summer.
The largest lake in Banff National park –some 27 km long and an average 1km wide— Minnewanka Lake provides summer recreation for both locals and tourists. Recreational boaters as well as fisherman flock to the lake in the summer to dip their rods in its icy waters. If you don’t have your own boat, the Minnewanka Lake Cruise provides visitors with an interpretive tour.
Minnewanka is an old Nakota name meaning Spirits of the Lakes, named so because indigenous peoples in the area believed the lakes to be the vessels and portals to the spirit world. The explanation is that when harsh winds sweep across the surface, the lake erupts in violent waves. Natives believed these to be the manifestations of spirits on the other side.
“If you look at rocks around the lake, you can see faces in the rocks and natives believed these were the faces of the beings in the spirit world,” Michelle de Camp,guest services manager for local tour operator Brewster, explains.
De Camp has been in Banff for over twenty years and has created a very intimate relationship with Lake Minnewanka. Along the tour, she points out a giant chasm in the rocks on the lakeside that was believed to be a portal to the afterlife. “It’s a very spiritual lake,” she says.
The tour lasts 1.5 hours and costs adults $45 per person. Brewster has a total of three boats, each with capacity for over 50 people, centralized heating and an inside seating area. Because Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in Banff National Park that allows motorized boats, the tour is a unique experience.
Embarking from the dam itself, guides explain to tourists that although the hydroelectric dam was built in the 40’s to support the war effort, the energy source continues to serve the communities of Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and the area ski resorts. The tour continues along the north shore with panoramic views of the Palliser mountain range, located in the southeast corner of Banff National Park.
“Currently there are two nesting pairs of bald eagles on the lake, we often see bears and bighorn sheep,” she explains.
For the more intrepid visitors, there are three dive sites in the lake, where divers can swim through underwater ghost towns. These towns were covered by 30 meters of water when the dam was built.
MAY 2009: AN ICY START
The cruise usually runs from mid-May to mid-October, weather permitting. This year however, a later than usual freeze kept Brewster’s boats from traversing the lake until May 18th.
The company generally receives two types of tourists: tour groups and independent travelers. While the former has increased compared to last year, independent visitor numbers are lower than average. De Camp expects this to change in July, the season’s busiest month. The rest of the year, the lake is frozen over with 2-4 feet of ice and recreationalists take to the ice with skates and sleds.
De Camp’s company, Brewster, also offers chartered fishing tours, that range from half-day to full-day trips. The experience includes a snack, guide and is almost guaranteed to bring home a trophy. Almost every time, she reminds me.