Sylvan Lake is a town in central Alberta, Canada. It is located west of the City of Red Deer along Highway 11 or Highway 11A. It is situated on the southeast edge of Sylvan Lake, a long freshwater lake, in Red Deer County.
The lake is a popular destination for tourists from around Alberta, with over 1.5 million visitors each year. Popular tourist activities include sunbathing, swimming, water-skiing, and visiting the local Wild Rapids Waterslides.
Sylvan Lake was originally settled by French speaking immigrants from Quebec and the United States. Arriving in 1898 from Michigan, Alexandre Loiselle and his family originally homesteaded the quarter section that later became the west side of today's Main (50th) Street and the businesses and homes immediately to the west.
Farming quickly became a mainstay in the area and in 1923 an Alberta Pacific grain elevator was built on the CPR line immediately north of what is now Cottonwood Estates. The elevator was torn down in the 1970s and the CPR line was abandoned in 1980 and subsequently removed. Since then, the right of way has survived as a natural area and walking path through Sylvan Lake.
Elevators were also constructed along the CN line and were used by local farmers in the mid-century decades. They were torn down in the late 1990s.
Even prior to the building of the railways, Sylvan Lake was quickly becoming a summer resort for families in Red Deer. With the coming of the trains, "the Lake" quickly became a favorite of families from both Edmonton and Calgary. Initially the summer visitors camped in tents, but soon the "Cottage Area" east of 46 Street and in "Lower Camp" on the southeast shore began to fill with summer cottages. In the 1930s and 1940s people also began arriving by car and the areas around Norglenwold, Sylvan Lake Provincial Park and Jarvis Bay Provincial Park began to fill up with summer visitors.
The influx of summer residents and visitors also brought businesses and services that catered to the ever increasing number of tourists. 1913 saw the first motor launch to take paying passengers on tours around the lake. A large boathouse was constructed in 1926, allowing visitors to rent a boat, canoe, swimsuit, or buy ice cream and pop as well as many other items necessary to a summer day at the lake. Regatta's were also held on the lake for a number of years beginning in 1923.
In 1928, the Dominion Government, assisted by the Sylvan Lake Women's Institute, built the long pier that jutted out into the lake from the bottom of Main Street. This pier was connected to the earlier WI Pier and formed a square area used for swimming and mooring boats. The first "waterslide" at Sylvan Lake was also part of this facility. The piers were prone to ice damage over the winter and were finally replaced by the existing "landfill" that now hosts beach volleyball tournaments and dragon boat racing as well as the entertaining lake tour on the "Zoo Cruise."
In 1983, Sylvan Lake found a replacement for its original waterslide in the construction of Wild Rapids Waterslide, which has become the largest facility of its kind in western Canada.
Another byproduct of losing the piers and later the government boat launch, was the construction of the Sylvan Lake Marina, home of many of the permanent boats on the lake, boating facilities, as well as a lake view restaurant and the Sylvan Lake lighthouse.