The story of Wabamun begins with the lake itself. This lake, which is 19.2 kilometres long, 6.6 kilometres wide and only 36 feet deep at its deepest point, was known for its very clear water. It is from that that the Cree gave it the name of Wapamon, which means mirror.
The lake was formed by the retreating ice sheets 10,000 years ago and today is one of the most heavily used lakes in all of Alberta. The lake has many fish species in it and is an important migration point for birds flying north or south depending on the time of year. Many animals such as beaver, muskrat and moose are also found in the area.
The area of Wabamun was primarily the home of the Stoney Cree people, who occupied the area for centuries. The abundant natural resources made it an excellent place to stop and camp, as did the fresh water and ample fish in the lake.
The development of Wabamun lake would begin thanks to the Grand Trunk Railway. The fish from the lake were sold as far away as New York City and were carried by box car by the railway to those locations throughout North America. The lake became a popular destination for summer tourists from Edmonton and in the winter, ice was cut to supply railway refrigeration cars.
The first post office was opened at Wabumun Lake in 1903, taking the name of the lake for the post office. Many homesteaders began to stop in the area, enticed by its beautiful landscape and ample land available.
In 1910, more people were settling in the area of Wabamun and most belonged to the Anglican Church. A congregation was created and soon after a church was constructed near to Wabamun Lake out of logs felled from the area. The land and most of the cost of building the church came from the local parishioners, but some money came in from England as well. In 1911, the church was consecrated by Bishop Pinkham out of Calgary. It soon became a regular stopping place for Anglican priests who toured through the area on a circuit. The church would go through various changes and eventually its log walls would be covered over with siding. One fascinating fact about the church is that its altar coverings were made from material that adorned Westminster Abbey during the coronation of King George VI. While the log walls are no longer visible, they are still forming the structure of the church. Today, it remains one of the few log churches still standing in all of Alberta. In 2005, it was made a Provincial Heritage Resource.
The community began to grow fast enough that on July 18, 1912, it became a village. That would then change in 1946 when it was dissolved as a village. It would become a village once again in 1980, only to dissolve that status again in 2021.
By 1915, Wabamun Lake was already becoming a popular destination for Edmonton residents to vacation at. The Edmonton Bulletin reported quote:
At the time, Wabamun had an open air pavilion where dances were held every week on Saturday nights. It also had direct phone communication with Edmonton, a pool room, tobacco store and several boat launches to cater to the many tourists who were coming to the area.
By 1929, as the Jasper highway was being built, a delegation of Wabamun residents went to Edmonton to ask that the route go as close to the lake shore as possible. Alberta Premier Brownlee was receptive to the idea of having the highway run near to the lake itself. In the end, the highway would go past Wabamun but about two to three kilometres away from it, so not quite what the delegation had hoped for.
When you visit Wabamun, you will notice that it has several powerplants in the area. The plants were a major driver of the economy for Wabamun for decades. The TransAlta Wabamun Coal Plant was first built in 1956, generating 537 megawatts of electricity at the time.
The plant would have the largest turbo-generator in all of Western Canada upon its construction. In all, it cost $8 million to build at the time, amounting to about $83 million today. At the time it was also the most efficient thermal plant in all of Western Canada.
Eventually, with pressure from environmental groups, the coal plant was closed down for good in 2010. The main building was destroyed by a controlled implosion on Aug. 11, 2011. There are now plans to turn the site into a waterfront with high-rise condos.
The Sundance Power Station, a gas-fired station that originally used coal, is still located in the area and operating.
Today, as the plants shut down, Wabamun is moving to a tourism based economy as it is very popular among Edmonton residents looking to get away from the city and stay in the many cabins around the lake.
In 2009, Wabamun decided to do something unique to help put it on the map. The community created Frankenfly, which was created as the world’s largest dragonfly and today is Canada’s largest dragonfly. The structure, which was designed by welder Frank Phaneuf, has an abdomen of a 490-litre propane tank, welded to a light post with wings made from a scrapped airplane, while its head comes from another propane tank. The wing-span of the dragonfly is 10-metres. Mary Thomas, the special events and marketing coordinator for Wabamun, would say at the time quote:
“Curiosity brings people in. We’re hoping it puts us on the map.”
With the creation of the giant insect, Wabamun became only the second Alberta community to commemorate an insect, after the giant bee in Falher.
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