Cold Lake | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Cold Lake

Cold Lake, Alberta, incorporated as a city in 2000, population 15, 661 (2021 census), 14,976 (2016 census). The city of Cold Lake is located on a lake of the same name, 290 km northeast of Edmonton. The Cree called the lake “Kinosoo” or “big fish” after a Cree legend. European settlers named the lake for its deep, cold water.


Cold Lake is located on the traditional territory of the Cree, Denesuline and Métis. These groups participated in the fur trade after the first post was built around 1871. Non-Indigenous settlement began in the early 1900s. It increased during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when farmers from the southern prairies moved north looking for fertile land.

Development and Economy

Growth was slow in Cold Lake until a Canadian Forces Base was established after the Second World War. This development lead to Cold Lake’s incorporation as a town in 1955. The base, 4 Wing Cold Lake, is a testing range as well as a training base for jet pilots. It also houses a radar unit that conducts surveillance and ground control intercept for aircraft. The base continues as one of the main economic generators of the city’s economy. Cold Lake has been a centre of oil exploration, and in 1985 Imperial Oil Ltd began production of heavy oil nearby. Imperial Oil has since expanded its operations and other companies are also investing in heavy oil production. The area is also a popular fishing resort and tourist centre. Saskatchewan’s Meadow Lake Provincial Park is nearby.

In 1996, Cold Lake, the nearby town of Grand Centre, and the residential quarters for the base were merged into the new town of Cold Lake. This municipal entity received civic status in 2000.