Chappice Lake

Piping Plover

by Jen Zollner.

Chappice was the name of the aboriginal who herded horses for James Sanderson, before homesteader times when ‘ranchers’ used the open range to graze.

It was a school district from 1913-1950; Chappice Lake School was 11 mi north of Irvin. There was never a town; postal service was at Vale or Irvine.

Chappice Lake is a saline lake 20 km northeast of Medicine Hat. Actually it’s two lakes on the west side of #41 highway between Medicine Hat and Schuler. It is a shallow, alkali lake less than 1 meter deep throughout, with 7 km of shoreline. It is groundwater fed but springs also feed the lake (findings from 1999-2002 hydro-geological investigations), one on the south and one on the NE corner.

The lake has thin layers of stacked sediment on the bottom which provide a record of prairie climate for 7000 years. The sediment shows 100+ year cycles of drought in layers of minerals and alternate layers of mud from relatively wet years. The layers hold fossils of micro-organisms, pollen & seeds of shoreline plants. The fossils show species that adapted to drought and non-drought years.

The terrain around Chappice Lake is rough and hilly and the few level areas for farming are rocky and salty in spots. Farmland once broken-up and farmed is now seeded back to grass, as by the dry 1930’s most homesteaders had moved out. It has been good sheep, horse and cattle country. Cattle now graze the tame and native grass most of which is lease land.  The sloughs dry up by summer so there are dugouts to water the cattle. Windmills were used to pump water; now many are using solar powered pumps.

Local landowners and organizations are working to conserve this grassland ecosystem. Many natural gas wells dot the landscape with miles of pipeline underground.

Teepee rings can still be found, evidence the Blackfoot and the Cree camped here. The lake is where the buffalo watered.


Did you know it’s a critical staging area for an amazing number of shorebirds?

As well, it’s a nesting area for piping plover, an endangered species and other rare                     and endangered species. Chappice Lake is part of an international program with organizations in over 100 countries to protect birds and their habitat.

See the article on the conservation plan that dates back to the late 1970s, written by Dawn Dickenson: See lists of birds charted as far back as 1978 and maps and airphotos of Chappice Lake.

SE Alberta Birding has a Trail Guide, see Trail 8 for this area (see link). It mentions birds to look for at Chappice and other lakes in the vicinity and gives directions to get to Schuler Lake & Many Island Lake.

SAM  LAKE is 5.5 km southeast of Chappice Lake and of similar size and type and also has extensive saline springs. It is surrounded by crown land greater than 10km2 and is recognized as ESA (Environmentally Significant Area), providing habitat for staging, moulting and nesting waterfowl. Sam Lake is valuable habitat for native prairie, plant species and wildlife.

SOUTH  SASK  CANYON begins at Chappice Lake and extends north to the South Saskatchewan River, going northeast from Chappice Lake and Sam Lake. It is a spectacular canyon with extensive coulees, eroding cutbanks and rugged badlands. Slopes and cliffs of the valley rise sharply from the river’s edge. The canyon is a provincially important staging area for Canada Geese and it’s home to Alberta’s only lizard species, the short-horned lizard. Crevices provide habitat for a number of species including bats. The canyon offers nesting areas for birds of prey such as the prairie falcon. It is a vital overwintering area for rattlesnakes and bull snakes. (photo)

Its deep river pools offer habitat for federally endangered sturgeon, pike, goldeye etc. and the area is an important wildlife corridor used by pronghorn, elk and deer.


There is a proposal to build a solar power array, a 15 MW power plant, with construction expected to start summer of 2021 and to be done by spring of 2022. It will be located on 160 acres of private land east of Hwy 41 on Twp Rd 150 and is being built by Elemental who did the Brooks project. The plan is to connect to Fortis Alberta Inc at NW corner of the project. The estimated cost of construction is $25 million and it is expected to operate for 35 years, after which it will be retrofitted with new equipment or decommissioned.

 Notice of Hearing (Alberta Utilities Commission) was held in July of 2020

 Source for Highlights of Chappice Lake: “Wagon Trails and Pioneer Tales” & various internet sites. Special thanks to Ken Davies, an area resident.

Rainmaking Operation at Chappice Lake
(The Story of Charles Hatfield, the Rainmaker)

In 1904 Charles Hatfield started his rainmaking business. He called himself a ‘moisture accelerator’. He was self-educated in rainmaking and widely read on the subject. Hatfield used a secret mixture of 23 chemicals in large galvanized evaporating tanks that he set on fire. His theory was that chemical fumes would rise, condense moisture in the clouds
and bring rain down.

He was a good actor, giving the impression he was in command of both chemical and physical resources. His well-dressed appearance made him more convincing and he refused payment until he had provided results.

Charles Hatfield, Rainmaker

1904-1905 Hatfield was hired and talked of successes in Alaska, Los Angeles, Texas, Hemet, etc. but was unsuccessful in the Klondike for water dependent gold mines.

In 1915 (December) San Diego city council hired Hatfield by a vote of 4 to 1. The fee was $10,000 but no formal agreement was made. 1916 (January 1st) Hatfield and his brothers started their process. On January 5th, heavy rains began and grew heavier day by day. This caused major flooding, millions of dollars in damage and 20-50 deaths. By 1938 courts decided the flood was an act of God. Hatfield didn’t get his fee but also wasn’t sued for damages. The flood became a legend that has endured for more than a century. It advertised Hatfield’s business and contributed to his fame.

Hatfield’s Connection to Medicine Hat and Chappice Lake

1918-1920 Severe drought in the Medicine Hat area caused some desperate homesteaders to leave their farms. In 1921 (January, February) dryland farmers invited Hatfield to ‘make it rain’. Vulcan, Burdett and Medicine Hat farmers were anxious to have him come to their communities. In 1921 (March) Hatfield agreed to come to the Medicine Hat area and the United Agricultural Association drew up a contract with him.

Hatfield would claim credit for half the rain within 100 miles of Medicine Hat from May 1st to August 1st. He would collect up to $8000 for a maximum of four inches at $4000 per inch for the rain he could claim.

In 1921 (April 21st) a big banquet at Corona Hotel, staged by United Ag Association officially marked the beginning of a new era in crop production, or so they hoped. In late April or early May Hatfield set up a 20 foot tower beside Chappice Lake. Trays were placed on the tower, wires were run from the tower down to the ground and mysterious chemicals & equipment were hauled by wagons to the site.

Rainmaking Tower (photo from

Hatfield mixed his mysterious ingredients. Thick clouds of bad-smelling smoke were sent to the sky. Several men made special trips to town to buy raincoats!

The rains began to fall: a total of 1.3 inches in the month of May. Other districts far from Chappice Lake were also getting rain. Some farmers asked him to ‘turn it down’ so they could finish seeding. By June, Medicine Hat was on the news world wide and farmers asked Hatfield to suspend rainmaking so they could make hay.

The rains ended in July. Hatfield increased the potency but to no avail. But while this area was parched, other southern areas were getting rain. Crops here were filling and in dire need of moisture with yields only slightly above average.

In August, Hatfield’s seasonal contract ended. United Agriculture Association complained of no rain in July but official records showed sufficient increase in rain. UAA owed the maximum payment but Hatfield accepted a settlement reduced by $2500.

Despite the controversy Hatfield was invited to return in 1922. He gave the impression he’d come back with more effective chemicals but he didn’t show.

During the Depression, Hatfield went back to selling sewing machines.

Hatfield (the son of a devout Quaker farming family) died in 1958, age 82. He never did disclose his secret chemical formulas but he claimed at least 500 successes on four continents.

Was Hatfield able to make it rain? Commentators say he was an adept meteorologist, highly educated in regional climate patterns so he had a sense of timing in selecting a place and a time period and he knew where there was a high probability of rain.

He inspired movies and books about him:
1894 -book, Elementary Meteorology by William Davis, a Harvard Professor
-studied by Hatfield and one that influenced him the most
1954 -play written by N Richard Nash The Rainmaker
1956 -Hollywood film by N Richard Nash The Rainmaker starring Burt Lancaster
and Katherine Hepburn (trailer link:
1993 -song by John Ball Hatfield (on the album Everyday)
2005 -book by Garry Jenkins, The Wizard of Sun City: The Strange True Story of
Charles Hatfield, the Rainmaker Who Drowned a City’s Dreams
2015 -book written by Larry Dane Brimner, The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Myterious
True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield
2016-Netflix episode White Rabbit Project
And there’s more:
-in 1963 a Broadway musical
-in 1992 an opera and
-in 2007 another Broadway production

-”Coyote Music & Other Humorous Tales” by Grant MacEwan
-Wikipedia & other websites

%d bloggers like this: