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Trent-Severn Waterway

The Historical Waterway


(adapted from information provided by Friends of the Trent-Severn Waterway)


The Trent-Severn Waterway is known to many as a recreation paradise. Yet this waterway has played a significant role in history during the period of Native occupation and throughout the development of Ontario's lumber, agriculture and recreational industries.


This magnificent waterway is made up of 386 kilometers of rivers, channels and lakes spanning Central Ontario, joining the Bay of Quinte with Georgian Bay. The Trent-Severn Waterway is divided into five main Regions. From southeast to northeast, they are: Trent, Otonabee, Kawartha, Talbot and Severn.


As early as 1900 B.C., Native groups travelled the natural waterway formed by the Kawartha Lakes. Archeological sites dot the waterway, giving evidence of its importance for both transportation and migration. In fact Petroglyphs Provincial Park near Burleigh Falls harbors one of the largest concentrations of Indian rock carvings in Canada.


The first lock was established in 1833 with a small wooden lock at Bobcaygeon. This marked the beginning of 87 years of construction along the waterway. As sporadic construction of the locks occurred, communities along the waterway gained access to lucrative southern markets. The lock system construction received an extra boost in 1878, with the newly elected government of Sir John A. MacDonald promising completion of the lock system. In 1920, construction was finally completed making it possible to travel from Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario.


The Trent-Severn Waterway profoundly influenced the pattern of settlement. Most remarkable being Scott's Plains, now Peterborough. Its location at the head of a navigable port made it the primary passage for shipping manufactured goods and agricultural produce to southern ports along Lake Ontario.


Over time, the waterway's commercial value decreased, as industry began to use more efficient modes of transportation. However, for two centuries, Trent-Severn Waterway has lured tourists and cottagers to the region in pursuit of an array of recreation and leisure activity.


As early as the 1830's, fish and game clubs, conservation clubs and regattas emerged along the Kawartha Lakes. Canoeing was the past-time of choice, with the locally manufactured “Peterborough Canoe” receiving international fame.


The absence of roads, gave way to steamboats, bringing passengers and supplies to resorts and cottages dotting the lakes. However, in the 20th Century, steamships vanished, as visitors opted for automobiles and motorboats.


Today, the Trent-Severn Waterway bustles with boating and other tourist activity year round. Visitors flock from many corners of the globe to experience (first hand), the geographic and historic significance of this regions wondrous waterway.


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