Why Was Trent-Severn Waterway Built?

Trent Severn Waterway

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a 386 kilometers long canal across Central Ontario, connecting Georgian Bay and Lake Huron at Port Severn, linking the Bay of Unite. It is a natural and human-made waterway that includes Trent River, Kawartha Lakes, Otonabee River, Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching and, Severn River.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a Historic site of Canada that is managed and regulated by Parks Canada. In the year 1972, the Trent-Severn Waterway was included in the list of National Historic site of Canada for attracting tourists worldwide.

Trent-Severn Waterway

1. Overview of the Trent–Severn Waterway

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a part of Canada’s national canal system that stretches over the city of Quinte West on Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte in the south, to faraway Georgian Bay on Lake Huron.

It begins at Trenton, Ontario, with human-made channels roughly measuring 32kms; and has over 40 locks, including 36 normal locks, 2 sets of flight locks, hydraulic lift locks at Kirkfield and, Peterborough which is unique in North America.

It also has a sea railway at Big Chute, lock 44, which transports boats between the upper and the lower sections of the Severn waterway. The system comprises 160 dams, 39 swing bridges, and other structures that effectively control the water level and flood control. In Balsam Lake, it reaches its highest point of approx. 256.3 meters and a length of 406 meters at the summit of Rhine-Main-Danube Canal of North America, with a fall of 80 meters to Lake Huron.

The waterway is well known for its beauty and amazing picturesque over various sections of its route like the Hydro Glen or the Sparrow Lake. It is also called the “finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world” by Parks Canada.

2. Why and When was the Waterway built?

Why Was Trent-Severn Waterway Built? 1

Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Trent-Severn Waterway building began with constructing small dams and water-powered mills during the late 18th Century at various South Central Ontario locations.

In the start of the 19th century, the Logging Industry’s emergence added to the number of dams to facilitate the floating of the timber slides cut from the forests. And to move the logs for shipment to Great Britain and the United States. Logging, milling, recreation, and grain handling altogether helped develop the waterway.

Earlier, the now modern waterway’s land river route was used by the nation to travel between the Kawarthas and Huron and Ontario’s lakes.

The desire to covert the channel into a navigable waterway that provides a communication route from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay emerged gradually with the expansion of the settlement in Upper Canada and the opening of the War of the First Coalition in 1793; while moving people and goods between the United States and lower and the upper part of Canada was thought to be strategically prudent.

John Graves Simcoe, in order to solve the problem began the construction of Yonge Street and the Penetanguishene road that would serve as an overland portage route to Georgian Bay via Lake Simcoe and also bypass all the choking points on the way. The road, however, wasn’t of much use until 1816 due to its narrow area. For a long time, the route was only used by the military as a naval depot for the shipments mainly during the wars.

The lack of convenient use of the upper lakes demanded the use of the inland waterways for military purposes, which led to the formation of many canals that provided access to the Upper Canada area.

In 1883, the Trent-Severn Waterway lock was constructed at Bobcaygeon by the Inland Water Commission, followed by various other locks and dams to permit the navigation between Kawartha Lakes and various other stretches of the Trent River. It constituted the beginning of the improvement of the waterway connecting Lake Ontario with the Georgian Bay.

The construction of the Trent-Severn Waterway was completed in the year 1920, after 87 years. After the construction of all the dams and the locks, the canal linking Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe along the Severn River was formed.

The canal initially lacked in many areas after its completion. It failed to create an effect on the economy of the regions it proposed to serve. The paths were designed for the boats that got obsolete by the time and were too small to be commercially viable. The railways were also being developed to change railway patterns and networks.

The waterway finally became obsolete for commercial purposes, with the present-day Welland Canal’s completion in 1932. The latter could handle the ships large enough to sail across the ocean.

3. Trent-Severn Waterway–A Tourist Spot

Why Was Trent-Severn Waterway Built? 2

Photo from Wikimedia

The Trent-Severn Waterway is now operated by the national park service Parks Canada and is used as a tourism and recreational spot for the boaters. Many famous cruise lines operate ships and houseboats rental firms. The waterway is now used for boating, hydroelectric power generation, wildlife habitat protection, and flood control.

The main heritage value of the Trent-Severn Waterway lies in the completeness of its transportation route. This has been embodied with many engin structures such as locks, dams, buildings, and bridges linked to the waterway.

The Peterborough lift Lock is of great importance and is acknowledged ever since it was built. It was once reputed for being the highest concrete structure in the world. The Lift Lock was built in the year 1904.

The Dominion Bridge of Montreal is considered great. The Lake Simcoe- Balsam Lake section of the waterway is also valued much for its surviving unmodified structures ever since its construction period 1900-1907.

The Trent River widens from Lock 18 at Hastings leading into Rice Lake. Rice Lake is one of the largest lakes on the Trent–Severn system, named after the rice cultivation by the Indians. The rice crops grew over 3 feet above the water level, cultivated by the early settlers. In recent days, it has ended because of the changes in the pattern of the river.

Otonabee river is short and is actually made of two different rivers. The upper portion runs from Katchiwanooka Lake to Peterborough’s Little Lake and is surrounded by limestones and cedar-lined shores. The lower level travels along treed shorelines to Rice Lake. Canada is also famous for several other attractions like Abraham Lake, Moraine Lake, and Waterton Lakes National Park.

4. Water Management of The Trent Severn Waterway

The waterways operations had been facing the water management challenge for a very long time. The dams built to facilitate navigation could not keep up with the seasonal fluctuations of the water levels.

The high spring freshet’s water levels dropped gradually as much as 2 cm a day, too much lower levels through evaporation during the summer seasons. In most sections, the water levels declined to a much lower point than the minimum navigation level.

Trent Severn Waterway

Photo by Robert Linsdell/ Flickr, Copyright 2021

The need for a reservoir system was recognized by the mid-19th century; that would let the rivers and lakes of the primary system recharge and allow smooth navigation during the summer days. There are approximately 160 water control structures in the waterway’s major system, associated with the lakes and rivers that make up the main reservoir system.

The dams make up the major part of the reservoir, adjusted to maintain the water levels by regulating the water flows. With the requirement to adjust the levels and flows, the lock staffs add or remove the stop logs and adjust the hydraulic dams. The dams in the reservoir lake are sequentially adjusted by a Haliburton-based crew that travels by the boat to reach the dams spread over a large geographic area.

5. Principal Attractions of the Waterway and the Areas to Explore

The Trent-Severn Waterway is now used for tourism. Every year, millions of tourists visit the waterway to enjoy the canal’s unique and scenic beauty and the locks placed at the heart’s heart villages across Ontario. Travelers can enjoy the place not only by houseboats or canoe but by bikes, cars, or on foot.

The locks are designed to raise or lower the boats from one water level to another. On approaching the locks or swing bridges, signals are sent to request the entry or have the bridge opened. The waterway has over 40 locks in different regions; these are the Trent region, Kawartha Region, Simcoe Region, and Severn Region, including the flight lock, lift lock, and a marine railway station.

1. Peterborough Lift Lock–Lock 21

Why Was Trent-Severn Waterway Built? 3

Photo by Robert Linsdell/ Flickr, Copyright 2021

The Peterborough lift lock is the highest hydraulic lift lock globally and the largest unreinforced concrete structure. Built-in the year 1904, the lock is on the Trent Canal in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. It was first opened on July 9, 1904, and enabled us to travel 240 miles and climb 840 feet. T

he Peterborough lift lock was designated a National Historic Site in 1979 and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers named it a Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1987.

2. Kirkfield Lift Lock – Lock 36

Kirkfield Lift Lock

Photo by RichardBH/ Flickr, Copyright 2021

Located a few kilometers away from the Kirkfield village, the Kirkfield lift lock is the second-highest lift lock in the world and has a lift with a height of 49 feet. The lock is at the highest point of the canal at 256.20 meters above sea level.

Designed by Canadian engineer Richard Birdsall Rogers, the Lock’s construction was started between 1900 to 1907, mainly for commercial purposes. Today the place is enjoyed by the visitors as a picnic spot.

3. Bobcaygeon–Lock 32


Photo by John Vetterli/ Flickr, Copyright 2021

Bobcaygeon was the first lock that was constructed on the Trent-Severn Waterway over 160 years ago. Located at the heart of Bobcaygeon, the place is today enjoyed by the boaters and is one of the most accepted locks in the waterway.

The atmosphere here is welcoming on both water and the town Kawartha Settler’s Village. The town was established in 1990 to preserve the culture and the history of this place. It is a 10-acre site featuring restored pioneer buildings, attraction, and special events for children and adults.

The famous Boyd Heritage Museum is another place people enjoy that. It showcases various features of the Boyd Gallery and the work of the local artists of the period.

4. Big Chute Marine Railway–Lock 44

Big Chute Marine Railway

Photo by Mac Armstrong/ Flickr, Copyright 2021

The Big Chute Marine Railway is a short drive in the Coldwater, where the boats are carried in individual cradles over a height of 60 feet, on a 100-ton open carriage from one side to the other.

It is the only marine railway of this kind in North America. The Big Chute Marine Railway is a part of the Trent-Severn Waterway federally operated by Parks Canada.

5. Trenton- Lock 1

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Carlb at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Trenton is the first lock in the Trent-Severn Waterway, beginning with a fascinating journey from Lake Ontario through 386km leading to Georgian Bay. The Loyalist Parkway and the beautiful Apple Route are the favorite stopping point for car travelers. Constructed in 1913, the dam is extremely popular among the visitors for its excellent transportation system.

6. Port Severn–Lock 45

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Photo by Perry Quan/ flickr, Copyright 2021

Port Severn is the smallest lock in the Trent-Severn waterway, measuring 25.6 or 84 feet. The Northern gateway of the waterway provides a quick boat journey from the Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Lock 45 is a favorite spot for visitors, boaters, and picnic goers. It is always fun to watch the boats traverse the lock. But caution must be taken while passing under Highway 400, especially during high flows, when there is a greater chance of getting struck by the currents along the way.

The visitors always enjoy a visit to a canal. Apart from the Trent-Severn Waterway, there is also the Rideau Canal famous for its locks. The boaters enjoys the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Rideau Canal as they provide a beautiful journey across Ontario. These are the two most favorite holiday spots of the visitors where we learn as we explore.

Things To Do At Trent Severn

Icy Canada

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