Until the 1870s an Ojibwa village existed near the present hospital site on the lake's shoreline.
The city was established as a planned community for the mining industry in 1955 after the discovery of uranium in the area, and named after the small lake on its northern edge. Geologist Franc Joubin and American financier Joseph Hirshhorn were instrumental in its founding. The principal mining companies were Denison Mines and Rio Algom. The population has varied with several boom-and-bust cycles from the 1950s to the 1990s, from a high of over 26,000 to a low of about 6,600.
In 1959, the United States declared that it would buy no more uranium from Canada after 1962. During the 1970s, federal plans for CANDU Reactors and Ontario Hydro's interest in atomic energy led the town, anticipating a population of 30,000, to expand again.
However, by the early 1990s depleted reserves and low prices caused the last mines in the area to close. In the years since, the city looked elsewhere for its survival, finding some success promoting itself as a retirement community and tourist destination.
Situated on the Canadian Shield, the city is surrounded by dense forest, muskeg swamps, numerous lakes, winding rivers, and hills of Precambrian bedrock. The local forests are mixed deciduous and coniferous, with colourful displays in the autumn.
Local wildlife include moose, white-tailed Deer, American Black Bear, beaver, loon, muskrat, otter, Canada Goose, and lynx, to name but a few. Fish species include lake trout, speckled trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, pickerel (walleye), and sturgeon.
Acclaimed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has taken landscape pictures of uranium and nickel tailings during the mid-1990s, providing evidence of the after-effects to the ecosystem.
Relatively isolated, Elliot Lake is only connected to the south by Highway 108, a 30 km distance to Highway 17, also known as the Trans-Canada Highway. Elliot Lake Municipal Airport has no regularly scheduled flights.
Elliot Lake Transit provides daily bus service on an hourly basis, with the exception of Sundays and statutory holidays.
The city is home to Denison House, a hotel and convention facility located in the former corporate lodge of Denison Mines, and the Elliot Lake Mining and Nuclear Museum. Two community monuments, the Uranium Atom Monument downtown and the Miners Memorial Monument on Horne Lake, are also found in the city, as well as a scenic lookout at the former fire tower.
In 1975, Canadian musician Stompin' Tom Connors recorded "Damn Good Song for a Miner," about the city of Elliot Lake and its mining culture in the 1960s. Elliot Lake is also a prominent setting in Alistair MacLeod's award-winning novel No Great Mischief.