Cooking Lake with its cool breeze was the place to be in the halcyon summers to the end of World War I. The wealthiest Edmontonians spent summers in one of the rustic cabins, swimming, sailing and canoeing or lounging at the docks. Others had to make do with day trips and special picnic outings to the beaches on its south shore.
A group of prominent Edmontonians formed the Koney Island Sporting Co. Ltd. in 1894 to develop a small island located in a bay on the west side of the lake. It was an exclusive resort, complete with a log clubhouse nestled among the spruce trees. Members built cabins and erected docks. The serene lake waters were ideal for boating and one of the first club projects was a sailboat: the Mudhen. She was carvel-built using hand sawn lumber.
Koney Island was an isolated spot: Dr. Goodwin, one of the club members, may have been surprised to meet Dominion Land Surveyor Ernest Hubbel who arrived to survey its shores in 1895. Goodwin lent Hubbel a club rowing boat to do his work. The island offered a “splendid rendez-vous” for club members, Hubbbel noted, and was “a tranquil and exceedingly picturesque spot.” Nevertheless, club members may have tired of rowing out to the island when they arrived dusty and hot from Edmonton, as in 1898 they bought a 20 foot gasoline launch that could carry 12 passengers.
On the south side of the lake Sheriff Walter Robertson built a large lodge from logs and opened a resort in 1898. Here no company membership was required and holidayers could stay, enjoy the beach area and social functions at the lodge. The commercial resort slowly developed into the hamlet of South Cooking Lake, complete with post office by 1906.
Cooking Lake really took off as a summer lake destination in 1909 when the Grand Trunk Pacific Line to Edmonton passed along its north shore. Day trippers came out from Edmonton on the morning train east, alighting at the small station of Cooking Lake. Part of the day’s fun was crossing the lake on the motor launch Daisy Girl that operated as a taxi to White Sand Beach on the south side at Ministik, where children built sandcastles before the evening’s return trip.
Company picnics for employees were popular. The Esdale Printing Company picked a warm day in 1914 for its annual outing. Couples sat by the shore watching children swim or splash about. Some women had umbrellas for shade while other relied on their straw hats. A tug-of war competition was organized among the women, while a group of men spent most of the afternoon roasting an entire calf on a spit built over a camp fire. Everyone sat down at long trestle tables to enjoy the meal in the shade of the trees.
Cooking Lake was a destination for outings on Empire Day (celebrated on the school day immediately preceding May 24). The day had beautiful fine weather in 1916, which must have sorely disappointed the young people in Edmonton’s First Presbyterian church group, who cancelled plans for a picnic and boat ride due to incessant rain the previous day. Church camps were held at the lake, and the Young Womens’ Christian Association had a bungalow at Military Point.
By 1916 many Edmontonians had cabins at Cooking Lake. A taxi service was available from the city and motorists increasingly ventured out for the day. More facilities and accommodations were built on the lake shore, which had a graded “lake promenade.” Lunch could be enjoyed at Mrs. McMenomy’s “high class restaurant,” and canoes and row boats hired by the hour. Further along the promenade at South Cooking Lake, visitors played pool at Chris Falks’ ice cream parlour.
Larger motor launches were evident on the lake in the 1920s and soon sea planes were landing on its waters, even before a seaplane base was built in 1935. The Cooking Lake Sea Plane Base was used recreationally as well as by bush pilots returning from the north. While other lakes around Edmonton enticed vacationers, Cooking Lake, the city’s first summer escape, remained popular into the 1960s. Water levels and water quality at Cooking Lake have always fluctuated: Koney Island became a peninsula in 1962. Sailors and swimmers became disenchanted during the 1970s. The summer of 2007 brought a record low-water level stranding the lake’s piers and cabins. Although waters have risen again recently, it seems unlikely that long summer days at the lake will ever be as cookin’ hot as they were a hundred years ago.
Written by: Judy Larmour, Historian.