Mystical Little Lake Manitou

Also known as “Canada’s Dead Sea,” it is the third largest salt water lake in the world.

By: Lisa Lysen


Deep in the heart of Saskatchewan, nestled between Saskatoon and Regina, in the village of Watrous, lies a little-known body of water considered magical to many throughout history and still today.

​Little Lake Manitou has been shrouded in folklore and tales of mystical healing powers since its discovery almost two hundred years ago. Even the name Manitou, an Indigenous word meaning “Great Spirit,” suggests reverence and honour.

Reportedly first stumbled upon in 1837, the legend goes like this. In a desperate attempt to escape the horrors of a smallpox epidemic plaguing Canada’s early settlers and subsequently Indigenous people, a group of First Nations families left civilization to travel west through unexplored country.

As they came upon the shores of an unknown lake, it had become obvious that some of their youths had contracted the deadly contagious disease. With no hope at all for the boys’ survival, they saw leaving them behind as their community’s only choice, thus protecting others from a terrible illness and certain death.

A shelter was built next to the lake and the youths, provided with as much comfort as possible, were left to await their inevitable fate.

​Hot, thirsty and alone, the boys made their way together to the lake’s edge for a drink. The feel of the water on their hands and faces as they cupped it to their mouths was soothing and they were lured in a little farther.

​As they stepped into the waters of Little Lake Manitou they relaxed and felt so comforted they couldn’t bring themselves to return to shore.

​In spite of being weak, their bodies wracked with terrible illness, they had no fear of drowning.

The lake kept them buoyant. As the water quietly worked its magic, they floated and rested, eventually falling asleep in Manitou’s gentle arms.

They awoke several hours later, refreshed and feeling some relief from the agony of the disease that had been stealing away their lives and destroying their healthy young bodies.

After a few more days of bathing in the mystically healing waters, the boys were, miraculously, free of smallpox, as the legend goes.

They quickly rejoined their people and returned to the lake to rejoice in what they felt could only be the work of the Great Spirit.

To celebrate the miracle of the young boys’ recoveries, what we now know to be the third largest body of salt water in the world, was christened “Little Lake Manitou.”

Originally formed by glaciers during the latest ice age and with a 13.4 square kilometre surface area and average depth of 3.8 metres, Little Lake Manitou is a dying lake, fed by underground springs.

A dying or terminal lake is what we call a lake when it has no inflow or outflow of its waters. No creeks, streams or rivers connect to Little Lake Manitou. With its waters never being replenished and continuously escaping through seepage and evaporation, it is expected to inevitably dry up.

However, having no flow has resulted in Little Lake Manitou being very rich in minerals. Salt levels are measured at half that of the Dead Sea, which helps to explain why floating on the surface is so easy here.

As well as being high in salinity, the lake is also abundant in naturally occurring magnesium, potassium, silica, calcium, and sulfate. Copper gives Lake Manitou an intriguing reddish tinge and might be the reason many afflicted with arthritis find a dip in its waters to be so soothing.

But it’s not only those suffering with arthritis who have reported feeling better after a dip. Resting in the lake for a few hours every day has been credited with curing eczema and other skin conditions over time, as well as with healing numerous types of infection, including gangrene.

Its soothing waters have been recommended to help with anxiety-disorders and stress-related illnesses.

As well, bathing in the lake is reported to have once cured an infection so severe that amputation would have been the next step.

With tales of healing powers earning Little Lake Manitou the reputation of being Canada’s Dead Sea, tourist attractions are popping up along its shoreline.

Now you can find a sandy beach, a European-type spa, mineral baths, a golf course, an award-winning hotel, as well as the historic “Dance Land.” There is also a bird sanctuary, delicious cuisine options, a creative “artist walk,” and shopping that showcases local talent.

From the time of its discovery in 1837, Little Lake Manitou has been a place where people go to heal and to celebrate.

And while no actual scientific studies have been done on the long-term effects of swimming in the unusual copper-coloured waters, many will tell you their personal experiences have been nothing short of magical.

Without a doubt, visiting this charming little town with all it’s attractions and friendly enthusiasm is simply magic in itself.


Lisa Lysen is a Métis writer with work published in The Cottager, Tripvia, and 50 Word Stories. She does writing for businesses, and published a novel she co-wrote with her husband in 2013. Lisa enjoys writing, long walks, exploring new places, swimming, sunsets, cooking, and jewellery but her biggest passion is her beautiful family. She’s having fun experiencing Canada’s many enchanting small towns and discovering the colourful mosaic of stories and people that belong to them. She hopes she can bring a little of their magic to life in stories of her own.

All photo credits: Lisa Lysen