Cold Lake was first recorded on a 1790 map, by the name of Coldwater Lake. Originally three communities, Cold Lake was formed by merging the Town of Grand Centre, the Town of Cold Lake, and Medley (Canadian Forces Base 4 Wing) on October 1, 1996. Grand Centre was renamed Cold Lake South, and the original Cold Lake is known as Cold Lake North. Because of its origins, the area is also known as the Tri-Town.
The city is situated in Alberta’s “Lakeland” district, 300 km (190 mi) northeast of Edmonton, near the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border. The area surrounding the city is sparsely populated, and consists mostly of farmland. The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, located to the north of the city, is the Canadian equivalent to the United States Air Force’s Nellis Air Force Range.
The city’s economy is inextricably linked to military spending at CFB Cold Lake. The region also supports oil and gas exploration and production. The Athabasca Oil Sands project in Fort McMurray is having a growing influence in the region as well. The Cold Lake oil sands may become a significant contributor to the local economy.