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  Candles on the Lake

by Dave Yanko

CANDLE LAKE -- Legend has it Candle Lake received its name from First Nations people who believed the lake was haunted.

It's said their unease arose from the strange, glowing lights that appeared on the water at the northern end of the lake where several Indian graves are situated. According to the legend, Indian people visited this area during hunting expeditions but never settled here because they believed the 'candles' on the lake were a bad omen.

Today, the legend and mysterious lights add to the charm of this small but popular provincial park and resort village, located less than an hour's drive from The City of Prince Albert in the mixed boreal forest of central Saskatchewan.

"I used to see them when I was a kid," longtime resident Dennis Chamberlain says of the mysterious lights. "They looked something like very low northern lights, bouncing around."

Loons, but no lights.
Loons, but no lights.

Chamberlain says it's unlikely all aboriginal people were frightened by the lights. Indian artifacts discovered in the area that's now the Minowukaw campground show First Nations peoples were at least visiting this area for hundreds of years. An old Hudson Bay Company report of a smallpox outbreak in the district seems a more likely explanation as to why so few Indian people were present when Euro-Canadians like Chamberlain's father settled in the region in the 1920s.

"The haunting was probably part of it. But the (local history) says they left the area because of smallpox. . . Those that didn't die, left."

The unusual lights continue to be reported on occasion. Scientific speculation suggests the 'candles' are swamp gas or a phosphorescent glow created by decaying drift wood.

Chamberlain says visitors interested in trying to spot the legendary lights should consider camping at the Minowukaw campground (pronounced 'min-na-WA-kuh'), on the southeast shore of the lake. Two other longtime residents have reported regular sightings from that area, he says.

If you've never been to Candle before, I recommend spending the hour it takes to check out both Minowukaw and Sandy Bay campgrounds, the latter situated on the west side of the lake. Gate staff are happy to let you do this, so long as you have a park entry pass (see links at bottom).

Sandy Bay campground has 85 sites with electricity and 59 without. Wheelchair-accessible and group camping sites are available, and the service centre has coin-operated showers, laundry facilities and flush toilets.

The beach at Sandy is long and features beautiful white sand - Candle Lake is renowned for its fine, sandy beaches. From the campground, it's a five-minute drive to the healthy little resort community of Candle Lake, where there's a good assortment of supply stores, restaurants, bars, lodges/cabins, services and another fine beach. On the way to town, you might want to check out Castle Gardens Crafts and Tea Shop. It features a moat, a tiny marina that allows access by boat, and a nice little play area for the kids.

The kids love the fine sandy beaches at Candle.
- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
The kids love the fine sandy beaches at Candle.

I opted for the smaller campground at Minowukaw. On the night I chose to perch myself on the beach to try my luck at viewing the lights, three loons patrolled the shoreline providing a wonderful soundtrack to a crimson sunset over the lake. But I saw no unusual lights.

The loons who serenaded me and other Minowukaw campers well into the night were far from the only creatures I observed in the park. The amount of 'watchable' wildlife at Candle is equal to what's available in Prince Albert National Park, one of best places in Saskatchewan for viewing wildlife. For better or worse, depending on your perspective, I'm told Candle has far fewer bears.

During an early morning visit to Fisher Creek, a pleasant little recreation area just a few kilometres south of Sandy Bay campground, I was awestruck by a great blue heron that I startled as I walked near a marshy area beside the creek. He scrambled to take flight. But between each wing stroke, the large and graceful bird lost almost as much altitude as it gained during the previous thrust. This surging takeoff was all the more pronounced by the heron's long, dangling legs that surfed the air behind him.

White-tailed deer are abundant in the park. The short, paved road leading from access Highway 120 to the Resort Village of Candle Lake is a particularly good stretch of road for viewing the timid creatures. I spotted at least two and as many as seven deer grazing at the edge of the forest during my half-dozen trips down this road. Elsewhere I saw several fox, a dozen rabbits, a white pelican, and numerous greebs, squirrels and ducks.

The pretty (and well stocked) trout pond near Sandy Bay features a paved trail that leads to this fishing platform.
The pretty (and well stocked) trout pond near Sandy Bay features a paved trail that leads to this fishing platform.

Candle Lake is classified as a 'recreational' park, a designation that sanctions a little more development than what's allowed in Saskatchewan's 'natural environment' parks. Many people from the cities of Prince Albert and Saskatoon have cabins at the lake, where they retreat for weekends and holidays. That means Candle can be a bustling place when the seasonal visitors join the permanent residents who live in resort village, located near the southern tip of the lake.

Water skiing, boating, swimming and fishing are the most popular recreational activities in the area - anglers can fish for pike, walleye, perch and whitefish. A few minutes north of Sandy Bay campground there's a wheelchair-accessible trout pond that's stocked with 800 fish a month during May, June, July and August.

The Candle Lake Golf Course is a nine-hole, grass-green facility carved out of the natural forest, and there's mini-golf, an arcade and a petting zoo at the south end of the lake. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and ice fishing are popular winter activities.

If long, sandy beaches and lots of watchable wildlife are high on your list of vacation priorities, Candle's a great choice.

For more information on Candle Lake Provincial Park, and for general information on camping at provincial parks in Saskatchewan, check out the parks branch site here. Candle Lake park is open year 'round.

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