Canada’s Own Dead Sea - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Canada’s Own Dead Sea

Canada’s Own Dead Sea

By Barbara Fletcher

Go Float in a Salty Lake
SourceSasketchewan Tourism


Because if you want to float in water and read a book, you don’t need to go all the way to the Middle East. You can go to … Saskatchewan.

By Barbara Fletcher

The Dead Sea in Israel is world-renowned. As one of the world’s first health resorts, people have traveled there for thousands of years, looking to experience that weird salty buoyancy or with fervent hopes of addressing various health ailments. But you don’t have to go all the way to the Mediterranean to seek relief or float in water while reading a book. You can go to Saskatchewan. 

Wha? Many people — including Canadians — don’t know that Canada has its own Dead Sea. And in the heart of the prairies of all places. Little Manitou Lake, near Watrous, Saskatchewan, is the largest saltwater lake in the country (and one of a handful in North America), and while it carries a lower salinity (more on that later), it is comparable to the Dead Sea and the Karlovy Vary hot springs in the Czech Republic.

Plus, the waters come with their own legend.

Located halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, Little Manitou Lake stretches 14 miles long by a mile wide. A tourist destination that has seen its popularity wax and wane, the area boasts a resurrected resort, the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa — with its brownish water pools in four different temperatures — campgrounds and other attractions related to the legendary lake.

So what makes a dead sea, well … dead? And why do we float instead of sink? Here’s a short lesson. Little Manitou is called a terminal lake (or, an endorheic basin, if you want to impress your friends with your ecological smarts). With rain and snow as its only source of water, it doesn’t flow out into rivers and streams. Without a steady flow, the water is calm for long periods, and as evaporation occurs, the salinity, or saltiness, near the bottom increases.

It reaches a point when the water can no longer hold the salt in a dissolved state. The resulting density of minerals — which, by the way, is approximately five times that of oceans — means that objects in saltwater are more buoyant than in fresh water. The saltier the water, the more buoyant any object in the water. So in salt lakes, it’s nearly impossible to sink. And extreme salinity means not much can grow in it, either.

Don Juan Pond in Antarctica — the saltiest water body on the planet — has 40-percent salinity.

But fun floating times aside, salt lakes like Little Manitou are sought-out tourist destinations for their healing properties. The mineral density of sodium, magnesium and potassium salts bring relief to those who suffer from conditions like psoriasis and arthritis, and the buoyancy of the water makes it easier for those with mobility issues.  

Plus, the waters come with their own legend. The story goes: In the  early 1800s, the area was home to Assiniboine tribes. When European settlers came to the area, they also brought devastating smallpox with them. After traditional remedies proved futile, the native people fled the area and ended up at Manitou Lake, feverish and thirsty. After a few days in the water, all were restored to health thanks to the “liquid medicine.”  Pretty soon, wo rd got out, and it became a popular destination for health-seeking First Nations tribes.

Then came settlers, visitors and, by the 1920s, it was a bustling tourist hot spot, complete with a famous dance hall and other amusements. The Manitou Resort opened in the 1920s, and a medical clinic soon followed. But hard times fell on the area and interest declined in the 1950s and ’60s. But after a fire in the 1980s, the area was revitalized with investment from the community, and the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa was built, a spa where tourists could come and experience the waters year-round. It became popular with “therapeutic travelers” looking for health-based holidays. 

So if you’re gung ho to “take the waters” on your next vacation, forget Jordan or the Czech Republic. Only a 10-hour drive from Fargo, N.D., or 19 hours from Seattle, it’s a much shorter trip to Watrous, Saskatchewan. And if you visit in the summer, on windy days the lake kicks up salty foam that looks like snow. Much better than the real stuff.

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