Exploring Alberta’s Ghost Towns: Minnewanka Landing

Most Albertans are familiar with Lake Minnewanka but few know of the ghost town located beneath its icy depths

Each day, thousands of Albertans and tourists explore Lake Minnewanka, but many don’t know about the ghost town lying beneath its frigid waters. Minnewanka Landing was a playground for the rich and affluent at the turn of the 20th century. It would later be destroyed because of Calgary’s growth. Here is that story!

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We did some similar posts on other Alberta Ghost Towns here!

The Creation of Minnewanka Landing
Photo of Minnewanka Landing taken in 1922. This shoreline today is about 75 feet underwater and about 30% across the lake from today’s shoreline.

When the Rocky Mountains Parks Act came into effect, the Banff area became a tourist destination for all kinds of wealthy and affluent people – the kind of people that wouldn’t want to live alongside coal miners or railway workers. Alas, Minnewanka Landing was born. Minnewanka Landing was playground for the wealthy constructed just upstream of the Bankhead townsite on the shores of Lake Minnewanka[2].

In 1886, Willoughby John Astley, and W. H. Desbrowne founded the town through the construction of the Beach House Hotel using the abundance of logs found throughout the area. Willoughby’s family took up residence with him at the hotel an assisted in managing it. Impressed by his work, the Canadian Pacific Railway contracted Willoughby in 1890 to construct a similar building in Laggan (later renamed Lake Louise) which he would end up managing[2].

The Boom Times of Minnewanka Landing
A postcard of Lake Minnewanka from 1902 by the Detroit Photographic Co. Note how much smaller the lake is compared to it today.

In the years following its inception, Minnewanka Landing would grow because of wealthy tourists arriving from Calgary. Politicians, doctors, lords and captains explored the shores of Minnewanka Landing and by the early 1900s, the town was larger in size than Banff[2].

A boat approaching the wharf that was constructed to improve access to the lake. this photo was taken between 1900 and 1925. Divers can check out this wharf today by diving down about 60 feet.

The residents and tourists of Lake Minnewanka took a liking to fishing the abundant waters. The hotel became well known among affluent visitors for its unique cuisine largely consisting of the day’s catches. Seeing the success of Minnewanka Landing – other local entrepreneurs built hotels and accommodations along the shores of Lake Minnewanka and the town began to boom. A wharf was constructed to allow greater access to the lake and the shorelines were improved by constructing a small log dam in 1895. This would attract larger boats and more tourists to Minnewanka Landing[2].

The Downfall of Minnewanka Landing

In 1910, a hydro-electricity dam was completed downstream near the Horseshoe Falls on the Bow River by the Calgary Power Company in order to power the increasingly industrial city of Calgary. They found that the dam was not producing enough electricity to meet demand and so they decided to construct yet another dam nearby at Seebe in 1911[2].

In 1912, a storage dam was constructed so that there was always a water supply for the hydro dams downstream. This raised the water level of Lake Minnewanka and partially flooded the town[1]. The water level of increased by 12 feet which flooded almost 1000 acres of land alongside the shorelines. Most of the homes were successfully relocated to higher ground prior to filling of the lake. It was decided that the hotel had to be burned to the ground before being flooded however due to its difficulty to move[2].

By 1940, Calgary was needing an improved power generation source because of its massive growth. The government imposed the infamous War Measures Act giving themselves sweeping jurisdiction. Ordinarily, construction of this extent and size would be denied in a National Park but with this new power, the federal government began the construction of the second dam that still exists today. When the new dam was completed in 1941, the lake rose an additional 85 feet from the 1912 water levels, completely covering the town or Minnewanka Landing in cold mountain water. The drastic increase in water level created a ton of power for the city of Calgary – at the expense of an entire town[1]. Minnewanka Landing was never rebuilt on the new shoreline.

Present Day Minnewanka Landing

Today, the original townsite is still generally intact despite being underwater since World War II. This can be attributed to the cold waters of Lake Minnewanka which slow down deterioration and decomposition.

For Albertans who have scuba diving expertise, the old townsite as well as the 1912 hydro dam can be explored. Divers can find all kinds of cool artifacts under Lake Minnewanka including many house foundations, road beds (with curbs still intact), timber bridge supports, fences, an old cast iron stove, railroad tracks, power generation towers, and the original wharfs (docks) constructed along the original Lake Minnewanka shoreline[1].

Lake Minnewanka Landing is a destination for divers around the world – and if you are a diver – then it is absolutely worth checking out[1]!

How to Get to Minnewanka Landing
  1. Head to Lake Minnewanka by taking the north Banff Avenue road at the TransCanada Highway
  2. You will need to dive to get to the actual townsite. There are buoys marking different areas in the summertime. I would recommend finding a guide before attempting any dive.
Videos of Minnewanka Landing

I imagine that lot of Albertans are like myself – not proficient at diving. For that reason, here is a couple of videos of dives to Minnewanka Landing:

Global News Coverage Minnewanka Landing
Diver’s POV of Minnewanka Landing

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Research References

[1] Minnewanka – Alberta, Canada Ghost Town. (n.d.). http://Www.ghosttowns.com. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.ghosttowns.com/canada/alberta/minnewanka.html

[2] Whyte Museum. (2019a, January 17). The Beach House Hotel: Lake Minnewanka’s First Hotel. The Beach House Hotel. http://whytemuseum.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-beach-house-hotel-lake-minnewankas.html