Admirals Log- The Details

Trent-Severn Waterway


Built in stages between 1833-1920, the Trent-Severn Waterway provides a link between Georgian Bay( part of Lake Huron) and Lake Ontario. The Trent and Severn River along with numerous lakes form the backbone of the waterway. Historically, this route was utilized for travel by the Hurons, to the north and the Iroquois, to the south, in upper New York State, where it was known as the “Iroquois Trail.”  The waterway also provided a venue for continual conflict between these First Nation groups.   Samuel Champlain utilized this route by paddling and portaging through the rivers and lakes.  The waterway as we know it now was begun in 1833 with the first lock built in Bobecaygeon. The concept for building the system was controversial and water rights were fought for vigorously by the farmers, mill owners and the lumber industry. All depended on the waters for their livelihood. Originally, the concept was designed to promote local development and aid movement of timber, grain and other goods from west to east. The path was complicated by the many timber slides, dams and mills along the way. During the early stages of the Waterway’s construction, water was the main transport of goods as there were no steamships or railways. That was about to change. Railways were expanding and steamships were carrying goods.  The waterway was too narrow and shallow for the larger ships. The economic boom did not occur and the timber industry was in a decline. The waterway was an economic bust. It was almost abandoned. After 87 years, it was finally completed but obsolete for commerce.  Instead, it became a mecca for tourism and recreation. The Trent-Severn is 240 miles long, with 45 locks, (36 conventional, 2 hydraulic lift-Peterborough and Kirkfield, a marine railway Big Chute) and 160 dams. The rise from Georgian Bay to height at Balsam Lake is 262ft and then the decline to Lake Ontario comprises the total drop of 597ft. from west to east.  It is an engineering marvel.

In modern times, the Trent-Severn Waterway has become one of the recreational gems of Ontario. The waterway is now dotted with cottages, the old railway beds have become bicycle trails and is a paradise for fisherman. It also provides many homes with hydroelectricity. 

To put things in prospective, the Erie Canal which connects the Atlantic via the Hudson River to Lake Erie was built from 1817-1825. The building launched New York City ahead of Philadelphia as a shipping center and was an economic boom to the small villages along the canal.

-The Admiral-

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