Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis (Mitchill)) are important commercially, culturally, and ecologically in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Stocks of lake whitefish in the Great Lakes have recovered from low levels of abundance in the 1960s. Reductions in abundance, loss of habitat and environmental degradation can be accompanied by losses of genetic diversity and overall fitness that may persist even as populations recover demographically. Therefore, it is important to be able to identify stocks that have reduced levels of genetic diversity. In this study, we investigated patterns of genetic diversity at microsatellite DNA loci in lake whitefish collected between 1927 and 1929 (historical period) and between 1997 and 2005 (contemporary period) from Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Genetic analysis of lake whitefish from Lakes Huron and Erie shows that the amount of population structuring varies from lake to lake. Greater genetic divergences among collections from Lake Huron may be the result of sampling scale, migration patterns and demographic processes. Fluctuations in abundance of lake whitefish populations may have resulted in periods of increased genetic drift that have resulted in changes in allele frequencies over time, but periodic genetic drift was not severe enough to result in a significant loss of genetic diversity. Migration among stocks may have decreased levels of genetic differentiation while not completely obscuring stock boundaries. Recent changes in spatial boundaries to stocks, the number of stocks and life history characteristics of stocks further demonstrate the potential of coregonids for a swift and varied response to environmental change and emphasise the importance of incorporating both spatial and temporal considerations into management plans to ensure that diversity is preserved.