Directions: Exit Edmonton on Hwy 28A north and continue straight onto Hwy 28 east. Distance: 116 km, or about 1 hour and 33 minutes, from Edmonton.
Info: 780-656-3674; www.smokylake.ca;www.smokylakeregion.ca; www.birthdaytownalberta.com.
A town of just over 1,000 people, Smoky Lake calls itself the Pumpkin Capital of Alberta, Birthday Town, and the Western Gateway to the Iron Horse Traila 300-kilometre stretch that runs through northeastern Alberta. Open year-round, the trail supports hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding, as well as all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile use. It is part of the Trans Canada Trail and Trans Canadian Snowmobile Trail systems.
Archaeological finds indicate that Cree people lived here at least 6,000 years ago. Although the area was busy with trapping and trading in the early 1800s, the settlement that became Smoky Lake did not establish itself until 1862 when the Methodist Church built a mission along the North Saskatchewan River. The Hudson’s Bay Company followed with a fur-trading post, and by 1915 the area was heavily settled. The Victoria Trail, which follows the North Saskatchewan River, was used to transport goods by wagon from Fort Saskatchewan and Fort Edmonton, and some local farmers living along the route opened stores in their homes.
When the anticipated railway bypassed the settlement and came north through what is now the town of Smoky Lake, settlers relocated to be near the railway. Smoky Lake became a hamlet in 1917, an incorporated village in 1923, and a town in 1962. Today the historical Smoky Lake Canadian
National Railway Station houses tourist information.
The town takes its name from the 19-kilometre-long lake located approximately five kilometres west of town. Some believe the Cree called the lake Smoking Lake because it is often covered in a haze that looks like rising smoke; others say the Cree named it Smoking Place because they gathered near the lake to smoke pipes when hunting.
Smoky Lake was once known for having the most businesses per capita anywhere in Canada and was so identified in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! With a population of just 250 between 1930 and 1940, the town thrived with various businesses that included a butcher shop, a brick factory, a flour mill, a photo studio, and implement dealers.
Smoky Lake hosts Stampede and Heritage Days in August but is best known for its annual Great White North Pumpkin Fair on the first Saturday in October. One of the largest pumpkin festivals in North America, competitors from across Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan haul their largest gourds here for the chance to win a prize for growing the heaviest pumpkin, squash, or watermelon. Prize-winning pumpkins of more than 1,000 pounds have challenged Smoky Lake scales. Be sure to take some photos in Pumpkin Park, where you will find seven giant, bright orange cement gourds. (The Pumpkin Hotline: 780-656-3674; Alberta Lakeland: 1-888-645-4155; email@example.com.)
You know you’ve arrived at Smoky Lake when you see the giant pumpkins.
Smoky Lake CN Museum and Tourist Information
Location: West Railway Drive and Wheatland Avenue by Flag Park, Smoky Lake. Info: Open daily, generally from June through the Labour Day weekend, 10:00 a.m. to
6:00 p.m. Donations are appreciated. 780-656-3674.
The Smoky Lake CN Museum and tourist information is set in the town’s 1919 CNR station, featuring a wooden platform, potbellied stove, and ticket-agent wicket, where return trips to Edmonton were once sold for $1.95. You can see a telegraph logbook and baggage room, complete with a collection of baggage on a trolley ready to be loaded onto a train.
Smoky Lake Museum,
Location: South of the Hwy 28 and Hwy 855 intersection; from Hwy 28, take the second right entrance into Smoky Lake and turn left after about 100 m.
Info: Open Saturdays and Sundays, Victoria Day to Labour Day, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the first Saturday in October for the Great White North Pumpkin Fair. Partial wheelchair access. Admission is by donation except during the Pumpkin Fair, when entry is $2 per person. Tours offered by appointment. www.smokylake.ca.
Housed in the old Victoria School, the Smoky Lake Museum contains numerous artifacts from the community’s pioneer days, including some of the many items Ukrainian immigrants and other early settlers brought to the area. The museum also showcases a selection of local artists’ private taxidermy collections, plus early settler machinery and the restored Pakan Ferry. Be sure to see the traditional mud and brick Ukrainian pich oven outside.
SMOKY LAKE MAP Photo Gallery
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