This Week in History


Last Mountain Lake

For the week of Monday June 7, 2004

On June 8, 1887, an order-in-council set aside 1,025 hectares of land to form the Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the first federal bird sanctuary in North America. The sanctuary covers 4,750 hectares of wetlands and grasslands used as breeding grounds for more than 280 species of birds.

View of Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area wetlands
© Philip S. Taylor
With the development of western Canada in the late 1800s, many bird species became endangered or extinct from excessive hunting or destruction of their native breeding grounds. In 1887, the Canadian government was urged to protect the Last Mountain Lake area to prevent further development from extending to the islands and shorelines of the lake where important populations of nesting and migratory birds existed. In order to protect this valuable wildlife habitat, the government set aside a portion of the area as a sanctuary. During its first few years, the reserve was unattended and unsupervised. The government did not concern itself with the reserve until settlers receiving grants on reserve property threatened the land. Another order-in-council set aside 2,500 hectares from sale and settlement as breeding grounds for wildfowl. Starting in 1913, inspectors were periodically sent to visit the reserve.

Double-crested cormorant with American white pelicans, just two of the many species that visit Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary
© G. Beyersbergen
In 1917, the Migratory Birds Convention Act was passed and the Last Mountain Lake reserve came under the act's provisions. The area was expanded in 1921 and renamed Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary was now under the protection of game wardens. In 1966, the federal government purchased 14,620 acres of farmland surrounding the sanctuary creating a Wildlife Management Unit. The Migratory Bird Sanctuary preserves the natural habitat and nesting grounds of countless migratory birds from across the world. These provisions have protected numerous species from possible extinction.

There are now 95 Migratory Bird Sanctuaries and 45 National Wildlife Areas across Canada. These areas serve as migratory stopovers for more than 80 percent of North America's waterfowl and shorebirds! The Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary provides habitats for nine of Canada's 36 endangered and threatened species of birds. Without these breeding and nesting grounds, many more wildfowl species would be extinct. The Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary was designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" – one of more than 700 locations worldwide. As the first Migratory Bird Sanctuary in North America, it was designated a national historic site in 1987.

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