Abstract Glacial Lake McConnell lasted from 11.8 to 8.3 ka BP while occupying parts of the Great Bear, Great Slave and Athabasca Lake basin. The retreating Laurentide ice-front formed the eastern margin, whereas low rolling hills formed the north, west and south shorelines. Three major deltas were deposited at the mouths of the Laird, Peace and Athabasca rivers. The total extent of all phases of the lake was 240,000 km2, while the largest extent was 210,000 km2 at 10.5 ka BP. Downwarping of the basin by glacial ice was the main cause of the lake, whereas sediment blockage between Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson was secondary. Initially, glacial Lake McConnell occupied the northwestern corner (Smith Arm) of the Great Bear Lake basin and discharged through the Hare Indian River outlet. By 11.5 ka BP the enlarged water body flowed out the Great Bear River, but only for a short period of time. The Mackenzie River formed the third outlet near Jean Marie River at 11 ka BP and flow in the Great Bear River ceased until 9 ka BP. At 9.9 ka BP glacial Lake McConnell was impacted by a major flood from glacial Lake Agassiz with a peak discharge of 2–7 × 106 m3/sec. Flood water discharged from glacial Lake McConnell, peaking at 0.35–0.57 × 106 m3/sec and receding flow continued for 30 months. The massive influx of floodwater into glacial Lake McConnell caused an abrupt increase of discharge, which enlarged the outlet channel to between 6 and 13 km wide between Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River. At 8.3 ka BP, isostatic rebound ended the 3500-year-old extensive lake by dividing it into the Great Slave Lake and Lake Athabasca.