Curious about the Great Lakes in Canada? From the Great Lakes Basin to the Arctic Circle, here are all of the Great Lakes Facts about Canada’s largest lakes.
Ten thousand years ago, at the end of the last great Ice Age, mile-thick glaciers that covered the upper half of North America melted, unleashing a torrent of water that created one of the most stunning natural wonders on earth, the five Great Lakes in Canada and the United States.
The end of the Wisconsin Ice Age forever changed the landscape of North America. Over 15,000 kilometers of shoreline and 35,000 islands were created as well as reservoirs that contain over one-fifth of the planet’s supply of fresh water.
Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie are the four primary Great Lakes in Canada and the United States, while Lake Michigan lies solely in the United States.
But there are three more Canadian Great Lakes that often get overlooked. Great Bear Lake, which is the third largest lake in Canada, and Great Slave Lake, which is the fourth largest. Both of those lakes lie in the Northwest Territories, one near Deline and the other near Yellowknife. The province of Manitoba also has a great lake. Lake Winnipeg is the 12th largest lake in the world by area.
Fun Facts About The Great Lakes In Canada
Some of these Great Lakes facts you may already know. Other facts might just blow your mind. So strap in and get ready because we’re going on a wild ride through the Canadian Great Lakes.
- The Great Lakes Basin is all connected. From west to east, the water flows from Lake Superior to Lake Huron to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan to Lake Erie and into Lake Ontario before entering the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence River.
- Lake Michigan is the only lake in the Great Lakes Basin entirely within the borders of the United States.
- Both Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake are independent lakes. Both are located in the Northwest Territories.
- The Great Lakes are located almost entirely south of the 49th Parallel, which forms much of the border between Western Canada and the Western United States.
- Great Bear Lake is the northernmost of all of the world’s great lakes.
- Of the five lakes within the Great Lakes Basin, four of them lie on the borders of Ontario. They don’t touch any other province in Canada. But in the United States, they border Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
- At its northern extreme, Great Bear Lake is intersected by the Arctic Circle.
- The Great Lakes Basin is the largest group of lakes on the planet.
- The Great Lakes Basin covers an area of 476,366 km2 (296,000 mi2), nearly as large as Newfoundland and Labrador.
- In total, the Great Lakes Basin contains 22,671 km3 of water. This amounts to 21% of the world’s freshwater and 84% of North America’s surface water.
- Great Bear Lake is the 3rd largest of the Great Lakes in Canada by both area and volume. It contains 2,234 km3 of water.
- If the Amazon River, which is the world’s longest river, emptied into the Great Lakes Basin, it would take 1,308 days (over three and a half years) to fill all five lakes.
- If the water from the Great Lakes Basin were spread across North America, it would cover the entire continent in 1.5 metres of water.
- Great Bear Lake is the largest lake that lies solely in Canada. It is the eighth-largest lake in the world.
- Due to their massive size, Canada’s great lakes must be navigated as inland seas. They experience large waves, powerful currents, and horizons that can often not be seen by the naked eye.
- Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake by area and the third largest by volume. The lake contains 12,070 km3 of water, more than the other four lakes within the Great Lakes Basin combined.
- The largest lake in the world is the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. It contains more water than all of the great lakes in Canada combined. The Caspian Sea is a saltwater lake.
- Of the world’s largest lakes, the Great Lakes in Canada rank:
- 2nd: Lake Superior
- 4th: Lake Huron
- 8th: Great Bear Lake
- 10th: Great Slave Lake
- 11th: Lake Erie
- 12th: Lake Winnipeg (Manitoba)
- 13th: Lake Ontario
- Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, by definition, are technically one lake. The two bodies of water are connected by the Straits of Mackinac near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. They match the definition of a single lake because they sit at the same water level. This would make it the largest freshwater lake in the world by area. But it still wouldn’t contain as much water as Lake Superior.
- From the deepest to the shallowest, Canada’s Great Lakes rank as follows:
- Great Slave Lake – 614 metres
- Great Bear Lake – 446 metres
- Lake Superior – 406.3 metres
- Lake Ontario – 244 metres
- Lake Huron – 229 metres
- Lake Erie – 64 metres
- Lake Winnipeg – 36 metres
- The coastline of the Great Lakes Basin measures nearly 16,900 km. This is more than three times the total width of Canada and would stretch halfway around the world at the equator.
- The Great Lakes in Canada contain more than 35,000 islands. The largest of these islands is Manitoulin Island in Ontario. Manitoulin Island is the largest island within a lake in the world and contains many lakes, some of which have islands themselves.
- Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area and second smallest in depth. It’s the 14th largest lake on the planet.
Fun Facts about the Great Lakes
- Vickie Keith, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was the first person to swim across all five of the Great Lakes. She completed her mission in 1988. In 2009, Ottawa resident Paula Stephanson also completed her swim of all five Great Lakes.
- Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run into Hanlan’s Point in Lake Ontario. The ball was never found.
- The Great Lakes were ripe with pirates during the 1700s-1800s. The waters had a Wild West mentality, but instead of gold and silver, Great Lakes pirates stole beaver pelts, timber, and sometimes entire ships.
- The largest wave recorded on Canada’s Great Lakes measured 8.8 metres in height. The wave was on) on Lake Superior.
- Canada’s Great Lakes sometimes experience a phenomenon called “ice volcanoes.” These occur when waves under the ice force water or slush out through cone-shaped mounds of ice.
- The Great Lakes contain over 30,000 shipwrecks and have claimed the lives of over 30,000 sailors. Most wrecks lie undiscovered. One of the most famous of these is the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.
- The “Great Lakes Graveyard” is a section of Lake Superior between Munising and Whitefish Point that is considered one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the Great Lakes.
- One of the worst disasters on the Great Lakes happened in 1860. A passenger ship called the Lady Elgin sank after colliding with a schooner. The wreck claimed more than 300 lives.
- The largest fish within the Great Lakes are a fish called Sturgeon. These massive, armored fish have been around for 175 million years and can weigh up to 136 kg and measure up to 3 metres in length.
- The Goderich Mine, which lies on the shores of Lake Huron in Goderich, Ontario, is the world’s largest salt mine. It’s as deep as the CN Tower is tall.
- Lake Huron contains massive sinkholes containing microbial conditions similar to those of the world’s oceans 3 billion years ago.
- Most of the lakes in the Great Lakes Basin are based on local Indigenous languages. Lake Ontario means “Beautiful Lake” or “Sparkling Water” in Iroquois. Lake Huron is named for the Huron First Nation, and Lake Erie is named for the Erie Nation.
- The province of Ontario was named after Lake Ontario, not the other way around.
- There’s a unique liquid hydrocarbon lake on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan that is named after Lake Ontario. Its name is “Ontario Lacus.”
- There is alleged to be a 30- to 40-foot-long “monster” in Lake Erie named Bessie. The earliest recorded sighting goes back as early as 1793.
- The original publication of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax contained the line, “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.”
- Fourteen years later, the Ohio Sea Grant Program wrote to Seuss to make the case that conditions had improved. He removed the line.
- The Great Slave Lake remains completely frozen for at least eight months of the year.
- Sir John Franklin was the first European to explore Great Bear Lake. He visited in 1825.
Great Lakes Travel
- The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a driving route that circles four lakes within the Great Lakes Basin. The route passes Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. The entire route covers over 10,000 km of road.
- The Lake Superior Circle Trail is considered one of the most beautiful drives in Canada. This route circles Lake Superior from Sault Ste Marie to Thunder Bay, down through Michigan, and back across the Mackinac Straight.
- Some of Canada’s largest cities, including Toronto, Hamilton, London, St. Catharines, Niagara, Oshawa, and Windsor, lie within the Great Lakes Basin.
- The city of Winnipeg does not actually lie on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.
- Great Bear Lake, despite being the second largest lake in Canada, does not lie near any major cities. The most major settlement on the lake is the town of Délı̨nę, an Indigenous community home to just 544 residents.
- During the winter, Great Slave Lake becomes a frozen highway connecting the city of Yellowknife with the First Nations community of Dettah.
- There are 4 Canadian national parks within the Great Lakes Basin. These are Bruce Peninsula National Park (Lake Erie), Pukaskwa National Park (Lake Superior), Georgian Bay National Park (Lake Huron). 1000 Islands National Park does not lie along the Great Lakes, but it does lie on the St. Lawrence River, which is the outlet for the lakes.
- The Great Lakes Basin provides some of the best agricultural land in Canada. This includes many fruits including grapes that supply Canada’s wine regions.
- Because of a misunderstanding in border creation, the town of Angle Inlet, Minnesota, was cut off from the United States in 1842. For residents to attend a school or visit the hospital, they must cross into Ontario and then back into the United States.
- Lake Winnipeg is renowned for its beautiful sandy beaches, attracting tourists and locals alike. Popular beach destinations include Grand Beach Provincial Park, Victoria Beach, and Winnipeg Beach.
- The southernmost point in mainland Canada is an ever-changing sandy point in Point Pelee National Park that stretches into Lake Erie.
- The Great Lakes Basin was formed when massive kilometre-thick icebergs carved out the land.
- Before the Great Lakes were formed, there was a massive lake that covered parts of what is now Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Lake Agassiz was larger than all of the Great Lakes in Canada combined.
- As the last Great Ice Age ended, the melting glaciers filled the large depressions left behind. Lake Erie was filled 10,000 years ago, Lake Ontario was filled 7,000 years ago, and Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior were filled 3,000 years ago.
- Indigenous Peoples began populating the Great Lakes Basin over 12,000 years ago.
- French explorer Étienne Brûlé became the first European to see the Great Lakesarn the early 1600s, Étienne Brûlé was the first European to see the Great Lakes. He spent much of his early adult life among the Huron Peoples and mastered their language.
- Armed military watercraft are not permitted on the Great Lakes due to an 1818 agreement between the British and the American Governments.
- Overfishing was a major problem in the Great Lakes Basin in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It resulted in the decimation of many Great Lakes fish, including the Atlantic Salmon, which were nearly fished out in 1898.
- In 1909, the United States and Canada signed the Boundary Waters Treaty, which outlined rules for the sharing and protection of the Great Lakes Basin.
- In 2013, one of the largest wooden steamships from the Civil War, the Keystone State, was found in Lake Huron after disappearing 151 years earlier.
More Canadian Great Lakes Facts
- The Great Lakes Basin empties into the St. Lawrence River, the largest estuary in the world. The river covers more than 236,000 km2.
- The Great Lakes Basin is home to one of the world’s largest economic engines. Across Canada and the United States, the region has a GDP of more than $8,000,000,000.
- St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron, the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, and parts of the St. Lawrence River were not originally navigable. A series of canal systems and locks had to be installed to allow boat traffic.
- Over 200 million tons of cargo are shipped through the Great Lakes annually. This includes as much as 50% of all trade between the United States and Canada.
- The Great Lakes provide drinking water for more than 40 million people.
Enjoy These Fun Facts About The Great Lakes In Ontario
We hope that these Great Lakes fun facts have helped inspire you to explore more of these incredible waterways. The Great Lakes in Ontario are packed with opportunities for adventure.
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Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.