Frances Lake, the largest lake in southeast Yukon, is situated in one of the territories most biologically productive regions. Moderate precipitation and relatively long warm summers promote vigorous growth in the extensive boreal forest. The Liard Basin ecoregion is an area of low hills, separated by broad plains and surrounded by mountains and plateaus.
This part of Yukon was covered by several glaciations since the late Tertiary. The remains you might notice are from the last glaciation when ice carved out the valleys and shaped the surrounding uplands. Physical evidence shows that lobes of ice originated in the Logan Mountains and moved south through the Frances River valley. Around Frances Lake, ridge crests and steep walls were modified by glacial erosion and by periglacial and alpine processes. Melting and retreating glaciers deposited sand and gravel eskers which are extensive on the lower part of the east arm and in the Frances River valley.
Several rivers and creeks feed into Frances Lake, some forming extensive deltas. The Frances Lake campground is located on the delta deposited by Money Creek. The lake drains into Frances River, an important wetland habitat for moose, waterfowl, Arctic Grayling and Bull Trout.
As the ice waned, isolated pockets of ice melted to create little “kettle” lakes. They provide important wildlife habitat.
Water, water everywhere
One of the most diverse communities of Yukon wildlife thrives on the large number of creeks, small lakes and wetlands in the Frances Lake region.
Winters here are cold and snow depths can reach 90 cm (35 inches) although Frances lake stays open at the narrows and the lake is normally free of ice by the third week of May. The lake outlet is often open in February and Frances River shows open water as far south as Tutchitua. The hardy American Dipper can dive for food all winter long.
Sedges, marestail and White-stem Pondweed have adapted to the delta’s water-saturated soils where otter mink and muskrat have found or make their homes. Moose density is very high in the marshy upper west arm and lower east arm of the lake.
Summer is a busy time as fish must complete their life cycle in three short months. Whitefish and lake Trout cruise the cold, deep waters while the Northern Pike prefer the dense aquatic vegetation of the warmer shallow bays. Arctic Grayling and Bull Trout hide in the rivers from hunting ospreys and bald eagles.
As high water recedes in mid-summer, wide beaches and flats become home to grasses and wormwood (Artemisia tilesii) Rare plants include a species of arnica, the wetlands-loving quillwort (Isotes) and muskeg lousewort (Pedicularis macrodonia).
Yukon’s First Trading Post
A Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) expedition, led by Robert Campbell, arrived at Frances Lake in 1840. Campbell named this lake, and the river flowing out of it, after the wife of George Simpson, HBC’s Governor of Rupert’s Land and the western territories from 1821 to 1860.
Campbell was looking for a good fur-trading region. His party found a thriving community of Kaska-speaking people hunting and fishing in the Frances Lake region, Campbell continued on to the headwaters of the Pelly River.
In 1842, the HBC built a trading post near a Kaska First Nation fish camp just west of the Frances Lake narrows. The store and house, surrounded by a stockade, formed the company’s first post in Yukon. The company’s supply route up the Liard River was long and hazardous and the traders suffered some very lean years. They had little to trade for food and poor luck harvesting enough to last the winters.
The Frances Lake post threatened a previous trade monopoly held by the Tahltan and Upper Pelly people. Conflicts broke out and some of the Frances Lake people were killed. The post was abandoned in 1851.
H. B. Co. operated another post at Frances Lake between 1934 and 1949 and this time chose a site on the east shore of the narrows.