Water sources: lakes

Introduction

A lake is a sizable water body surrounded by land and fed by rivers, springs, or local precipitation.

Canadian lakes, and there are many thousands of them, are a source of great natural beauty. But besides this beauty, lakes provide us with a wide range of practical benefits. Much of our domestic, agricultural and industrial water requirements come from surface water, and much of this surface water is contained in lakes. Lakes also provide us with avenues of transportation, recreational opportunities, and centres of biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

Certain land use practices and other human activities have endangered the health of some of our lakes, including the Great Lakes -- the largest system of fresh, surface water on earth.

Under the Government of Canada’s Action Plan for Clean Water efforts are underway to protect and restore key areas, including Lake Simcoe, Lake Winnipeg, and Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes.

By the Numbers

Our lakes are among some of the world's largest. The following table provides a sense of Canada's ranking among the largest of lakes in the world.

World's Largest Lakes
Rank
(by area)
Name Area (km2) Maximum depth
(m)
1 Caspian Sea 374 000 - 436 000 946 - 1 025
2 Superior* 82 100 - 83 300 307 - 406
3 Victoria 62 940 - 69 900 80 - 92
4 Huron* 59 500 - 59 800 223 - 229
5 Michigan 57 016 - 58 100 265 - 285
6 Tanganyika 32 000 - 34 000 1 435 - 1 470
7 Baikal 31 500 1 620 - 1 741
8 Great Bear* 30 200 - 31 792 137 - 445
9 Great Slave* 27 000 - 28 570 156 - 614
10 Erie* 25 657 - 25 720 64
11 Winnipeg* 24 387 - 24 600 19 - 28
13 Ontario* 18 760 - 19 480 225 - 273
22 Athabasca* 7 935 - 8 080 60 - 124
29 Winnipegosis* 5 370 - 5 470 12
notes
Source: Adapted from Peter H. Gleick. Water in Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
* Partly or entirely in Canada.

Canada has more lake area than any other country in the world, with 563 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres. The Great Lakes, straddling the Canada-U.S. boundary, contain 18% of the world's fresh lake water.

The country’s largest lakes are depicted in the table below.


Area in km2 x 1000
Total area including islands
Numbers have been rounded
*Canadian portion only

Largest lakes in Canada

Natural Resources Canada's Atlas of Canada provides additional information and maps on Canada’s geography including: fresh water, lakes, and Canada’s watersheds.

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes basin (the lakes plus the area of land draining into the lakes) contains 18% of the world's fresh surface water and is home to almost a third of the Canadian population.

As well as providing drinking water, the Great Lakes, which straddle the Canada-United States border, have played a major role in the development of both countries. They allow goods to be shipped to and from the heart of the continent; they are a source of hydroelectricity; and they are the site of industrial, commercial, agricultural, and urban development. The Great Lakes also provide an array of recreational opportunities.

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