Great Bear Lake

Not to be confused with Big Bear Lake, California.
Great Bear Lake

Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories
Location Northwest Territories
Coordinates 66°N 121°W / 66°N 121°W / 66; -121Coordinates: 66°N 121°W / 66°N 121°W / 66; -121
Primary outflows Great Bear River
Catchment area 114,717 km2 (44,292 sq mi)[1][2]
Basin countries Canada
Surface area 31,153 km2 (12,028 sq mi)[1][2]
Average depth 71.7 m (235 ft)[1][2]
Max. depth 446 m (1,463 ft)[1][2]
Water volume 2,236 km3 (536 cu mi)[1][2]
Residence time 124 years[1]
Shore length1 2,719 km (1,690 mi) (plus 824 km (512 mi) island shoreline)[1][2]
Surface elevation 156 m (512 ft)
Frozen November - July[2]
Islands 26 main islands, totaling 759.3 km2 (293.2 sq mi) in area[1]
Settlements Deline
References [1][2]
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

The Great Bear Lake (Slavey: Sahtú /ˈsɑː.t/, French: Grand lac de l'Ours) is the largest lake entirely in Canada (Lake Superior and Lake Huron straddling the Canada-US border are larger), the fourth largest in North America, and the eighth largest in the world. The lake is in the Northwest Territories, on the Arctic Circle between 65 and 67 degrees of northern latitude and between 118 and 123 degrees western longitude, 156 m (512 ft) above sea level.

The name originated from the words "Satudene" in Denesuline meaning “grizzly bear water people.” The Sahtu Dene people are named after the lake. Grizzly Bear Mountain on the shore of the lake also comes from Denesuline, meaning, “bear large hill.”[3][4]

The Sahoyue (Grizzly Bear Mountain) peninsula on the south side of the lake and the Edacho (Scented Grass Hills) peninsula on the west side form the Saoyú-ʔehdacho National Historic Site of Canada.[5][6]


Bathymetric map of Great Bear Lake.
Mackenzie River drainage basin showing Great Bear Lake's position in the Western Canadian Arctic

The lake has a surface area of 31,153 km2 (12,028 sq mi) and a volume of 2,236 km3 (536 cu mi). Its maximum depth is 446 m (1,463 ft) and average depth 71.7 m (235 ft). The shoreline is 2,719 km (1,690 mi) and the catchment area of the lake is 114,717 km2 (44,292 sq mi).[7] Great Bear Lake is covered with ice from late November to July.[2]


Arms of Great Bear Lake include the Smith Arm (northwest), the Dease Arm (northeast), the McTavish Arm (southeast), the McVicar Arm (south) and the Keith Arm (southwest). The community of Deline is located on the Keith Arm near the outflow of the Great Bear River that flows west into the Mackenzie River at Tulita.[8]


Rivers flowing into Great Bear Lake include the Whitefish River,[9] Big Spruce River,[10] Haldane River,[11] Bloody River,[12] Sloan River,[13] Dease River[14] and the Johnny Hoe River.[15]

Prehistoric geology

Great Bear Lake lies between two major physiographic regions: the Kazan Uplands portion of the Canadian Shield and the Interior Plains. It was part of Glacial Lake McConnell in the pre-glacial valleys reshaped by erosional ice during the Pleistocene. Since, the lake has changed from post-glacial rebound following the ice melting. Precambrian rocks of the Canadian Shield form the eastern margin of the McTavish Arm. These rocks of the Precambrian are sedimentary and metamorphic deposits supplemented by igneous intrusions forming dikes and sills.[16]


Human use

The Deline settlement is on the lake, near the headwaters of the Bear River.[18] There is an ice crossing from Deline to the winter road on the far side of the Great Bear River.[19][20]

In March 2016, a tank truck fell partway through the ice road just a few days after the government had increased the allowed maximum weight limit to 40,000 kg (88,000 lb) on the road. The truck which was 3 km (1.9 mi) outside of Deline, and close to the communities fresh water intake as well as a major fishing area, contained approximately 30,000 l (6,600 imp gal; 7,900 US gal) of heating fuel and was one of 70 truck loads intended to resupply the community. The fuel was removed from the truck by 2 am, 8 March.[21][22][23]

Three lodges around the lake are destinations for fishing and hunting.[2] In 1995, a 32.8 kg (72.3 lb) lake trout was caught, the largest ever caught anywhere by angling.[24]


In 1930, Gilbert LaBine discovered uranium deposits in the Great Bear Lake region. The former mining area Port Radium, site of the Eldorado Mine where pitchblende was discovered, was located on the eastern shore. Echo Bay Mines Limited leased the old camp and mill at Port Radium to recover silver and copper values from 1965 to 1981.[25]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Johnson, L. (1975), "Physical and chemical characteristics of Great Bear Lake", J. Fish. Res. Board Can., 32 (11): 1971–1987, doi:10.1139/f75-234 quoted at Great Bear Lake (World Lakes Database)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Hebert, Paul (2007), "Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories", Encyclopedia of Earth, Washington, DC: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment, retrieved 2007-12-07
  3. Johnson, L. The Great Bear Lake: Its Place in History. Calgary, Alberta: Arctic Institute of North America (AINA) database at the University of Calgary. pp. 236-237. Retrieved on: 2012-01-30.
  4. "Natural Resources Canada-Canadian Geographical Names (Grizzly Bear Mountain)". Retrieved 2014-12-20.
  5. "Saoyú-ʔehdacho National Historic Site of Canada". Retrieved 2014-12-20.
  6. "Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy (Saoyú-ʔehdacho)". Retrieved 2014-12-20.
  7. "Great Bear Lake". World Lakes Database. International Lake Environment Committee. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  8. "The Atlas of Canada - Toporama". Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  9. "Whitefish River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  10. "Big Spruce River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  11. "Haldane River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  12. "Bloody River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  13. "Sloan River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  14. "Dease River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  15. "Johnny Hoe River". Geographical Names Data Base. Natural Resources Canada.
  16. Lionel Johnson. "Great Bear Lake" (PDF). Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans Freshwater Institute. Retrieved 2015-02-12.
  17. "Deline A" (CSV (3069 KB)). Canadian Climate Normals 1981–2010. Environment Canada. Climate ID: 22010KA. Retrieved 2014-01-09.
  18. "Deline - "Where the Water Flows"". Spectacular Northwest Territories. Northwest Territories. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
  19. "Impassable ice roads delay holiday travel". CBC News: North. CBC. 23 December 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  20. "Open and Close Dates for the NWT's Community Access Roads". Transportation. Government of the Northwest Territories. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  21. "Fuel tanker plunges through Deline, N.W.T., ice road". CBC News. 5 March 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  22. "N.W.T. hopes to remove fuel from tanker stuck in ice near Deline quickly". CBC News. 7 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  23. "Fuel load successfully drained from tanker stuck in ice near Deline, N.W.T.". CBC News. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  24. "International Game Fish Association".
  25. Schiller, E A. Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 65-11. Natural Resources Canada. pp. 42–. GGKEY:CR5H58XXBJZ.
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