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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Lake Superior

The Water

Lake Superior is 563 km long, 257 km wide, and covers an area of 82,000 km², which makes it the largest freshwater lake in the world. It is also the coldest and deepest of the Great Lakes, with a maximum depth of 405 m and an average depth of 147 m. Containing 10% of the world's fresh water supply, Lake Superior could easily hold all of the other Great Lakes, with three more Lake Eries thrown in for good measure. The eastern portion of the lake is characterized by a series of long parallel troughs 200-400 m in depth, while the rest of the lake is primarily comprised of large, deep basins. Water depths of less than 100 m are only found in a 5-35 km band parallelling the shoreline, with a rapid fall-off, often with underwater cliffs. Lake Superior is always cold, the mean lake temperature not rising above 6°C. The lake is generally well mixed, with an abundance of oxygen and is the most oligotrophic of the Great Lakes. In normal winters 60% of the lake area is ice covered. Because of its size, Lake Superior has a retention time of 173 years.

The Coast

Cliffs reaching 100-300 m in height, interspersed with low rocky shores and deep bays characterize this wild coast. The western end of the lake has a complex shoreline with large sheltered embayments, striking promontories and extensive archipelagos, while the remaining coastline is relatively straight with open bays, headlands and a few small island groups. The region is the most exposed of the Great Lakes, with wind fetches of up to 500 km, resulting in high wave action.

The Wildlife

The Lake Superior fish fauna consists of about 70 species, including a number of introduced ones. The predominantly cold water fauna includes such species as lake trout, lake whitefish and lake cisco. Populations of pink, chinook and coho salmon, as well as rainbow trout and rainbow smelt, all introduced species, are well established in the region. Lake Superior is also one of the last strongholds of the shortjaw cisco, a threatened species once abundant in several of the Great Lakes. Cormorants, herring and ringed-billed gulls, great blue herons, and several species of dabbling ducks are the region's most common breeding birds. Bald eagles, ospreys and peregrine falcons breed in small numbers along the shore. A few species winter in the area.


This region is not yet represented in the national marine conservation areas system. The Western Lake Superior representative marine area was selected as the preferred area for consideration as a possible national marine conservation area. In 1997, Canada and Ontario launched a study to assess the feasibility of a proposed Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. In 2000, the feasibility study concluded with strong public support, backed by 100 recommendations from a local regional committee which guided the feasibility study process. Negotiation of an NMCA establishment agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario is ongoing. (For details on the establishment process, see The NMCA Program.)

Last Updated: 2013-05-10 To the top
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