What We’re All About
The Lac La Ronge area has long been the place to come in summer for fishing, with beautiful lakes and great camping and hiking experiences. Winter, with its frozen lakes and spectacular snow and ice scenery, offers different but no less exciting experiences. We have clean air and wilderness, without noise or pollution. Our scenery is characterized by spruce, pine, tamarack, birch and aspen forests covering rocky Pre-Cambrian ridges, interpsered with swamps called muskegs. Chains of lakes feed into the Montreal and Churchill Rivers. We are truly a woodlands and waterways!
Area activities include something for everyone: canoeing, camping, fishing, boating, skiing, snowmobiling, golfing and wildlife watching.
The Lac La Ronge area has three communities within a short distance of each other: the Town of La Ronge, the Village of Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. The combined population is approximately 5,000 people.
The area’s other park neighbours, located within an hour of the tri-communities, are: Sucker River, Grandmother’s Bay, Stanley Mission and Missinipe.
This area has been home to the Cree people and their forefathers for centuries. The 1600km Churchill River system bears evidence of human activity from hundreds of, perhaps thousands, of years ago. Ancient rock paintings testify to that. Our waterways were once the lifeline of the Cree people, providing travel routes for canoes in summer and for dog teams in winter.
In the 1800’s, fur traders paddled up the Churchill River from the east, establishing a trading post first in Stanley Mission and then on the north end of Lac La Ronge. The posts were used as a base for further exploration to the north. The old fur trading posts around the shores of Lac La Ronge are now overgrown and all but invisible. The Northwest Company and the Révillon Frères both traded in the area, combining in the late 1920s to form the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Hudson’s Bay Company moved their post to the present day La Ronge townsite in 1914 and has been located on the same site every since, under different names and in a succession of buildings – 102 years in 2016! It currently operates as a Giant Tiger.
Religion followed the fur traders into teh north and churches played a major role in forming permanent settlements, establishing schools near the churches. Later, the province took over provision of schools when they made formal education mandatory. And yes, we had a residential school in La Ronge, although, by all reports, it was a nicer place than some!
By 1900, there was a Catholic community at Egg Lake. Later, a Catholic church was built near the present day Montreal River Bridge. In 1906, the All Saints Anglican Church was built in its current location three kilometers from the mouth of the river on a rock y bluff overlooking Lac La Ronge. Within a few years, an Anglican residential school had been built near the church, allowing people to leave their children in town to be educated while they maintained their traditional trapline way of life. The school kept a large garden near where the present day beach is, growing fresh produce for school meals. There was a small sawmill in what is now Patterson Park, used to make the boards to build the school.
Our tourism industry really started in the 1930s, when news of rich fishing in Lac La Ronge and other nearby lakes reached the outside world.
The completion of a gravel road from Prince Albert in 1948 reduced the role of the Montreal River as a travel corridor. Supplies, personnel, fishermen and tourists now arrived by road to experience the wilderness and the fine fishing. Once more the water became important, this time for recreation. The local population, though, never lost its dependence on water for moving around. There is total mobility by road or by water – the best of both worlds.
Between the 1950s and 1970s, the road gradually extended north of La Ronge to take advantage of resources and promote mineral exploration through the provincial “Roads to Resources” program. The highway from Prince Albert was rerouted to the west side of Montreal Lake and paved in the late 1960s. It is now part of the 4,100km CanAm Highway, extending from Southend/Reindeer Lake to Mexico!
Air travel has been evolving since airplane engines first roared over the north’s lakes and forests in the summer of 1924 on aerial photography missions. Today, the Town of La Ronge operates a modern airport with paved main and crosswind runways and full navigational aids. Forest fire fighting aircraft are based here in the summer, using water for yet another purpose!
Our waterways are still important to our economy, whether for substance, tourism, aviation, wild rice or just plain getting away from it all. They’re full of history, great for recreation and still important for travel.
The area is part of the traditional territory of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. The Band has about 10,000 members in 18 reserve communities, six of which are in our area and account for about half of the band’s population. This is the largest First Nation in Saskatchewan and one of the top 10 Canada-wide.
For detailed stories on the Churchill River and associated waterways, we recommend the book, “Canoeing the Churchill” by Greg Marchildon and Sid Robinson, available at the Visitor Centre or other local retailers.