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Old Wives Lake

(50°06’N, 106°00’W: Map sheet 72 I/4). Old Wives Lake, the largest natural lake in southern Saskatchewan, lies in an internal drainage basin, on mixed-grass prairie, some 35 km southwest of Moose Jaw. Spring runoff and seasonal rains, mostly channeled into the Wood River, feed this shallow, saline lake. Salinity is sufficiently high that sodium sulfate has been harvested commercially, especially during the 1950s and 1960s when water was diverted into nearby Frederick Lake, which served as an evaporation pond. The lake’s extent varies enormously, depending on available water supply. In 1949 and in the late 1980s it was completely dry. Low water levels expose mud flats that attract many shorebirds. Usually, a large island called the Isle of Bays is located 5 km off-shore; sometimes, a second island is exposed. Waterfowl and shorebirds use the lake as a migratory staging ground and breeding ground. Once named Johnstone Lake after big-game hunter Sir Frederick Johnstone (who visited in 1861), the lake was renamed in the 1950s as Old Wives Lake to commemorate a Cree legend about a group of old women who sacrificed their lives to save other members of their community from Blackfoot warriors. The Cree word Notekeu (nôtikwêw) means “old woman” and survives in the name of a tributary of the Wood River.

Marilyn Lewry

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