Lake Minnewanka is one of the most beautiful attractions of Banff National Park, but little known to its visitors is that the pristine lake is hiding a fascinating secret beneath its surface: an underwater ghost town.
Minnewanka Landing, a once thriving resort town
In the mid-1800s, there was a village called Minnewanka Landing where the 13-mile-long Lake Minnewanka sits today. People would visit the popular resort town, which sat on the edge of a much smaller version of today’s lake, from nearby Calgary. Visitors would go on boat trips across the lake and enjoy the town’s hotels, cottages, and restaurants.
Things began to change in 1895, according to Parks Canada. A dam was constructed on Devils Creek to “improve the lake’s shoreline,” with another dam following in 1912 in Devils Canyon. Built by the Calgary Power Company, the second dam’s purpose was water storage. Unfortunately, the second dam raised the water level by 3.5 meters (12 feet), which led to Devils Creek becoming flooded.
Beginning of Wars
At the beginning of World War II, the Calgary Power Company needed to increase its hydroelectric power. So under the War Measures Act, a third dam (which is still present in Banff National Park today) was constructed. It was this dam that raised the water level 30 meters (98 ft) and resulted in the entire resort town, the 1912 dam, and a bridge at Devils Creek becoming completely submerged.
Parks Canada archaeologist Bill Perry told the Smithsonian mag that during World War II everyone was hungry for power. “Calgary and the surrounding area were growing substantially during that point in time and required more power, so Lake Minnewanka was seen as an easy end.”
Seeing the underwater ghost town
Minnewanka Landing is now located 18 meters (60 ft) below the lake‘s surface. The glacier-fed and icy waters of Lake Minnewanka have fortunately preserved the town well. Scuba divers have the opportunity to see actual cottages (with intact windows), remnants of the old hotel, and wharves. Today, around 8,000 scuba divers a year visit lake Minnewanka to see the underwater ghost town for themselves.
Scuba Diving Exploration
Underneath the surface, scuba divers can also see a native campsite from thousands of years ago. Archaeologists have found spear points and arrowheads in recent years. Above Minnewanka Landing, the lake continues to be a favorite place for boat cruises and kayaking adventures in the summertime.