Lac Ste. Anne was first called Wakamne, or God's Lake by the Nakota Sioux, and Manitou Sakhahigan (Lake of the Spirit) by the Cree first nations before the arrival of the settlers.
The legend goes that the Indians hunted buffalo and fished in the lake called Manitou Sakhahigan. The legend told of a large monster that lived in the lake, and as it moved it would create dangerous and unpredictable currents, which could easily capsize a canoe. Very few people saw the monster but when the Hudson's Bay Company came they renamed the lake Devil's Lake possibly in reference to the reported lake monster.
Elders of Alexis Reserve remember their grandparents telling of how as children they would go out on the lake and peer down through the then clear water to the lake bottom in search of the monster. They would hope and fear that they might actually see its legendary form.
The village of Lac Ste. Anne is one of the first European settlements in Alberta and the first permanent Catholic mission. Lac Ste. Anne (then called Devil’s Lake or Manito-Sakahigan) was visited by Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault in 1842. Two year later in 1844 he established the Mission of Lac Ste. Anne to serve 30 French Métis families, who had settled there in the 1830s, and the native population of the area. He also renamed the lake Lac Ste. Anne, honouring Saint Anne. Lac Ste. Anne was in a central location with good fertile fields, tall trees for lumber, and plenty of fish and wildlife. It was also far enough away from the Hudson's Bay Company politics in Fort Edmonton.
The missionaries began the teachings of the Church, and also taught the people how to farm. They had predicted the demise of the buffalo and strove to make the Métis people self-sufficient. By 1859 the mission boasted 17 fat and fine cows, 15 horses, 10 dogs, 10 cats, and a garden with flowerbeds. Pigs and sheep were not raised because of the dogs and wild predators. Crops included wheat, barley, potatoes, cabbage, onions, and turnips.
In 1859 three Grey Nuns made the journey from Montreal to the Mission. They were the third, fourth and fifth white women to travel to Alberta. On September 24 Lac Ste. Anne welcomed these brave women with enough mud to bog down their wagon at the entrance to the Mission. The Sisters began their lives here by learning the Cree language, starting a school, helping in the gardens and painting the windows of the church so that worshippers would not be distracted during services.
The Mission grew until there were over two thousand people. A Hudson's Bay Company post, a separate school, an orphanage retreat, a North-West Mounted Police barracks, a dance hall, a post office, several stores, saloons and hotels moved into the area complimenting the church, rectory and convent.
At one time the mission was larger in population and commerce than Fort Edmonton.
Father Lacombe, who arrived in 1852, was a priest with vision and a great deal of common sense. In 1861 he decided for many sound reasons to build a new mission at St. Albert. When he left the mission of Lac Ste. Anne was almost deserted by pastors and flock. All that was left were a few homes, the church, the rectory and the Grey Nun's residence.
Father Lestanc organised the first pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne in 1889 in honour of Saint Anne whose feast day is on July 26. In 1926 over 5,500 pilgrims attended. Many came by a special train from the city of Edmonton 45 miles away. Today pilgrims come to the lake from all over North America, many walking miles bare-footed as penance to witness or be a part of the miracle of healing. A display of crutches and canes have been left behind in the shrine by pilgrims. Thirty to forty thousand people now attend the annual pilgrimage in the last week of July. Oaths of sobriety, along with other life style promises are made, and prayers and forgiveness are given.
The Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004 for its social and cultural importance.
"Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage is a site of national historic significance because as early as 1889, Aboriginal people, including Cree, Dene, Blackfoot and Métis, have been coming to Lac Ste. Anne to celebrate the Feast of Saint Anne. Saint Anne embodies, for many Aboriginal peoples, the traditional importance of the grandmother figure. For the Aboriginal people of Western and Northwestern Canada, the pilgrimage site is an important place of social, cultural and spiritual rejuvenation, which are important aspects of the traditional summer gathering." Parks Canada
Several miles east, Lac Ste. Anne was the hostess of more history. In 1912 the Alberta Northern Rail built the railroad to what is now Alberta Beach, it brought its employees out for company picnics and holidays. By 1920 they had incorporated the area as a summer village, built a dance pavilion, a large wooden pier, and several cabins. Other companies such as Marshall Wells and Woodwards then began to bring their employees out for the same relaxing and beautiful atmosphere.
There was such a demand for this atmosphere that the Moonlight express was started. A.N.R. picked people up in Edmonton on Saturday mornings, took them to Alberta Beach., then picked them up Sunday night to take them back to Edmonton.
Soon people began purchasing and building their own cabins and small businesses. On January 1, 1999, the Summer Village of Alberta Beach became a village. It now has 884 year-round residents and can swell to over 3,000 people during long weekends. A hotel and many small businesses operate within the village. Alberta Beach has developed in many ways while still preserving the reason for its popularity. The tranquility and beauty of the lake still draw admiration and provides relaxation to those who come to enjoy the area.
In the 1900s the Hamlet of Gunn was also developing as a major trade center, consisting mainly of Métis and Indian people. There were two flour mills, a blacksmith shop, the hotel, several stores and trading posts that nestled beside the train station. In the 1930s an Army training center was built where the Gunn housing center now operates. Prosperity reigned until the Army left and the C.N.R. removed its rail station. With it, many of the residents and businesses also left.
Today all that remains is a combination store, laundromat, restaurant, car wash and a Post Office, Community hall and University observation and research station, as well as the Gunn Housing and Senior's Center.
A French Viscount by the name of Charles de Caze, In the 1890s began building a castle on the small island located on the northeast shores of Lac Ste. Anne, which he named Constance Island, in honor of his only daughter. The castle was to be four stories high, built of stone. The walls were to be three feet thick crowning it was to be a stone battlement running all the way around.
The castle was to be his retirement home but unfortunately he died at the age of 44 and did not complete his project. For many years, only the two stories of his dream castle remained to pique the curiosity of people stopping to picnic and enjoy the panoramic view of the lake.
Approximately twenty years later a Mr. Shorty purchased the Island. He demolished the castle and transported several cabins to Constance Island. During prohibition it was an excellent spot for parties and fun. Years later he built a causeway which provided better access to the island. Eventually the Island was sold, renamed Castle Island, subdivided, and incorporated into a summer village.
A rail station in 1912 also created the community of Darwell, located between Lac Ste. Anne and Isle Lake. The naming of this station caused many debates with no resolution, until an enterprising man took out his hymnbook and randomly picked a good tune. The tune had the name Darwell in it.
It also became known throughout Alberta as Hobo stop because of a ranch which never turned away anyone asking for shelter. Many a man out of work rode the rail to Darwell to get food and lodging in exchange for work. As the story goes many a man wanted by the law also found refuge and the North-West Mounted Police spent many a trip going to the Hobo Ranch.
Today Darwell boasts a store, garage, and school. The old ranch has long disappeared, but the hospitality of this community still exists today.
The Alexis Indian Reserve of the Alexis Nakoda Nation is located on the northern shore of the lake, and Alberta Beach is located on the southeastern shore. The Summer Villages of Ross Haven and Yellowstone, along with the subdivision of Corsair Cove, and the unincorporated hamlet of Gunn lie along the northern shore. The Summer Villages of Castle Island, Sunset Point and Val Quentin lie to either side of Alberta Beach. The Summer Village of West Cove lies on the southern shore of the west basin.
Two campgrounds are located around the lake, one at Alberta Beach and the other at Gunn, on the north-eastern shore. There are also two golf courses in the immediate area, one at Alberta Beach, and the other in Ross Haven. There are two Bible Camps with lakefront property on Lac Ste. Anne, Ross Haven Bible Camp, located in Ross Haven, and run by the Canadian Sunday School Mission, and Sunset Point Christian Camp, in Sunset Point, and run by the Alberta Pentecostal Missions Society.
Fishing is a popular recreational activity, species including whitefish, northern pike, walleye and yellow perch.
Water based sports include sailing, water skiing and windsurfing in summer and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in winter.