Sylvan Lake has long been one of Alberta’s most popular summer resorts.
For many years, prominent features at the main beach, on the southeast end of the Lake, were public piers and adjacent boathouse businesses.
The first piers were small, rather shaky affairs, put up in the summertime by the local cottage owners and campers. The Loiselle family built an early floating boathouse, out in the water in a rudimentary marina, which the Loiselles created by the family-owned Alexander Hotel (now the site of the Golf Course parking lot).
This early boathouse had to be dragged to shore each fall before freeze-up.
In 1913, Mr. Joe McCluskey, a colourful local businessman, built a large pier and a small boathouse east of the end of Main (Centennial) Street.
The boathouse contained small boats and canoes which were available for rental to tourists.
The pier provided lake access and dockage for those rentals.
McCluskey also used the pier as a dock for a motor launch from which he provided tours of the Lake.
Unfortunately, McCluskey’s building skills did not match his ambitions. Some of the sections of his pier were rather unstable and occasionally fell into the water, with whoever happened to be walking on them at the time.
The boathouse, although two-storey, was also quite rudimentary.
A concession stand was created in a lean-to annex on the east side of the structure.
In the spring of 1928, the newly-formed Sylvan Lake Women’s Institute initiated a project to build a large new public pier to replace McCluskey’s effort.
A significant financial contribution came from the Federal Government, who accepted the W.I.’s contention that Sylvan Lake was a navigable waterway.
Meanwhile, J.P. Simpson, a C.P.R. station agent, bought the McCluskey boathouse. He had the old structure hauled out to the Palmer farm, west of the town.
He then built a large, new boathouse at the foot of the W.I. Pier. This new building was ready for business when the Pier officially opened on July 12th, 1928.
The W.I. Pier proved to be a big boost to tourism at the Lake. In turn, Simpson’s new boathouse did a booming business, not only with the boat and canoe rental but also the large concession stand included in the building.
In 1938, another pier was constructed to the west, in line with Sylvan’s Main Street.
A piece was built at the end to connect this new structure with the W.I. pier.
In 1951, the W.I. Pier was badly damaged in the spring breakup. The next year, the Department of Transport built a replacement pier.
In 1958, ice damaged the east end of the breakwater. Repairs were made, but in the spring of 1959, another 60 ft. of the pier was badly damaged during breakup.
Consequently, an ice slide was added to prevent further spring damage.
Time and the elements continued to take their toll of the pier. For the safety of the public, sections were dismantled and removed. By 1968, only one portion was left.
The boathouse building survived time and the elements relatively unscathed.
However, as privately owned motorboats became more popular and a marina was created farther to the west, boat rentals dropped off.
Paddle boards and other personal water devices, along with the concession, became the mainstays of the boathouse’s business.
In 1971, the public wooden pier was in such disrepair that a decision was made to replace it. In its place, a unique landfill pier was constructed. This new structure, which was 500 ft. long, and between 200 and 320 ft. wide, was completed in 1973 at a cost of $150,000.
The space was landscaped with turf and trees as well as benches, picnic tables and lighting. The provincial Department of Parks and Recreation agreed to be responsible for upkeep and maintenance.
Meanwhile, the boathouse continued in business for a few more years.
However, by the turn of the decade, a decision was made by the owner to shut it down. The old structure was consequently demolished and never replaced.