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A lake is a sizable water body surrounded by land and fed by rivers, springs, or local precipitation.

Canadian lakes, and there are many thousands of them, are a source of great natural beauty. But besides this beauty, lakes provide us with a wide range of practical benefits. Much of our domestic, agricultural and industrial water requirements come from surface water, and much of this surface water is contained in lakes. Lakes also provide us with avenues of transportation, recreational opportunities, and centres of biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

Certain land use practices and other human activities have endangered the health of some of our lakes, including the Great Lakes -- the largest system of fresh, surface water on earth.

Under the Government of Canada’s Action Plan for Clean Water efforts are underway to protect and restore key areas, including Lake Simcoe, Lake Winnipeg, and Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes.

By the Numbers

Our lakes are among some of the world's largest. The following table provides a sense of Canada's ranking among the largest of lakes in the world.

World's Largest Lakes
(by area)
NameArea (km2)Maximum depth
1Caspian Sea374 000 - 436 000946 - 1 025
2Superior*82 100 - 83 300307 - 406
3Victoria62 940 - 69 90080 - 92
4Huron*59 500 - 59 800223 - 229
5Michigan57 016 - 58 100265 - 285
6Tanganyika32 000 - 34 0001 435 - 1 470
7Baikal31 5001 620 - 1 741
8Great Bear*30 200 - 31 792137 - 445
9Great Slave*27 000 - 28 570156 - 614
10Erie*25 657 - 25 72064
11Winnipeg*24 387 - 24 60019 - 28
13Ontario*18 760 - 19 480225 - 273
22Athabasca*7 935 - 8 08060 - 124
29Winnipegosis*5 370 - 5 47012
Source: Adapted from Peter H. Gleick. Water in Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
* Partly or entirely in Canada.

Canada has more lake area than any other country in the world, with 563 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres. The Great Lakes, straddling the Canada-U.S. boundary, contain 18% of the world's fresh lake water.

The country’s largest lakes are depicted in the table below.

Largest lakes in Canada
Area in km2 x 1000
Total area including islands
Numbers have been rounded
*Canadian portion only

Natural Resources Canada's Atlas of Canada provides additional information and maps on Canada’s geography including: fresh water, lakes, and Canada’s watersheds.

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes basin (the lakes plus the area of land draining into the lakes) contains 18% of the world's fresh surface water and is home to almost a third of the Canadian population.

As well as providing drinking water, the Great Lakes, which straddle the Canada-United States border, have played a major role in the development of both countries. They allow goods to be shipped to and from the heart of the continent; they are a source of hydroelectricity; and they are the site of industrial, commercial, agricultural, and urban development. The Great Lakes also provide an array of recreational opportunities.

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