En Route to Big ChuteBy Elizabeth Ann Kerr

The Port of Orillia is a transient marine and does offer basic services. For those they cannot accommodate, there areseveral marinas along the shores Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchichingthat offer slips, boat launch ramps, boat rentals and sales, gas/diesel/propane, pump out, repairs and maintenance.


I have lived in Ontario my whole life but have only recently had the pleasure of visiting the City of Orillia, even although I have probably been a stone’s throw away from there more than 1,000 times, en route to a cottage via Highway #11.Of course, I always stop at Weber’s for a burger and fries.

Orillia was founded in 1867, incorporated as a town in 1875, and a city in 1969. Singer songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and Sir Sam Steele of the North West Mounted Police originated from Orillia. In fact, Orillia had the first hydroelectric transmission plant in North America; in 1936, Orillia printed its own money; and, it was the first municipality to introduce daylight saving time.A place full of surprises.

The City of Orillia is a city of 31,000 people in the heart of Ontario’s Lake Country located right on the shores of Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe. From the minute I landed there, I was seduced by scents of home-baked goods accompanied by live jazz being performed on the streets or in nearby watering holes. Admittedly, I had no real pre-conceived idea about what Orillia would be like, but I have to say that main street enveloped me by its charm and its many friendly retailers and I was already wishing I could stay longer…or perhaps plan another visit.


MainstreetOrillia boasts more than 100 shops, restaurants and eclectic retail stores to suit all tastes and budgets. You will witness many architectural styles including samples of Victorian, Queen Ann, Gothic Revival, Art Deco, and Arte Moderne as you walk through its downtown core.

Every year, thousands of boaters dock here during the summer to enjoy everything that Orillia has to offer. And the choices are endless and diverse. They say Nashville is the Music City, but I’m not so sure Orillia isn’t a contender for such a title. Several venues in town and along the waterfront (including the free Sunday evening band concerts) offer music, entertainment and theatre to whet most people’s appetites. 

For some, the Port of Orillia is a final destination. For many others, it is a lovely spot along their way through the historic 386 km Trent-Severn Waterway.

Unfortunately, the Port of Orillia building was destroyed by fire in December 2014. Temporary facilities were built to accommodate the very basic needs of boaters, including shower facilities and boat slip rental information.

Bridgeport EAKHeading through the Atherley Narrows, where Lake Couchiching meets Lake Simcoe, we pass under the Canadian National rail swing. Due to the low water levels, we were able to see the Mnjikaning Fish Weirs used to catch fish moving between the lakes, with the help of the shallowness of the channel and the wooden weirs built there. The Mnjikaning Fish Weirs was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1982 because the site contains the largest and best-preserved wooden fish weirs known in eastern North America, in use from about 3300 B.C.

However, the good news is that the construction of the Orillia Waterfront Centre (also known as the Port of Orillia) building was awarded to a project team led by Orillia’s Bradanick Construction Services and is on schedule to welcome residents and visitors for the 2017 boating season.

The other good news is that Parks Canada is waiving Trent-Severn Waterway lockage fees for 2017 to mark Canada's 150th birthday so getting to the Port of Orillia is even easier.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is made up of 44 locks, numbered 1 to 45, scattered along its 240-mile route. Locks 28 and 29 were combined back in 1968. The waterway opens in mid-May and closes after Thanksgiving. Bridges and locks along the canal portion operate from 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. in high season but it is always good to check the hours before heading out.

When approaching a lock, you’ll see a blue line painted along the wall indicating where to tie up while waiting. If you choose to stay and explore, you may tie up but avoid the blue line.

The controlled clearance through the Trent-Severn is 20'. The controlling depth is 6 feet. Water levels do vary throughout the season and from year to year, so if you have a draft of more than five feet, contact the Trent-Severn Waterway office. You may have to sign a damage waiver.

To get to the Port of Orillia from Balsam Lakein the east, boaters must pass through Locks 37-41: 37-Bolsover; 38-Talbot; 39-Portage; 40: Thorak and finally 41-Gamebridge to access Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching.

A potentially interesting crossing up Lake Simcoe – notably rough at times –and through the Atherley Narrows will have you heading right to the Port of Orillia. There are several marinas along the way offering transient slips should you need gas, a pump out or the need to explore.

Heading east from Georgian Bay, you pass through Locks 45-42; Lock 45-Port Severn; Lock 44-Big Chute Marine Railing; Lock 43-Swift Rapids; and finally Lock 42-Couchiching. From this lock, once leaving the canal, head south, then west to Port of Orillia. Make sure to stay within the designated markers whether coming or going. There are several of them.

No matter how you arrive, however, the new Port of Orillia will be ready to welcome you.

The building, designed by Brook McIlroy Architects, will offer private washrooms and showers, as well as laundry facilities and a reception area for visiting boaters.

Orillia’s waterfront offers picnic spots and beautiful trails. Downtown Orillia is a short walk away and on any given day in the summer, you will likely discover some great entertainment. In addition to the many street events such “Street Alive!”, checkout the Orillia Community Church, the Orillia Opera House, and of course, Casino Rama.

Opera HouseThe original Opera House was completed in 1985. The auditorium had 905 seats with an exquisite wrap around balcony common to the formal Opera Houses of Europe. Unfortunately, fire broke out on July 6, 1915 and destroyed most of the original building. $35,000 in funding was finally approved and the work was completed in 1917. The Opera House, known for its fine acoustics, has featured such artists as the Marx Brothers, Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, K.D. Lang, Mickey Rooney, Dan Hill, Liona Boyd, Blue Rodeo, Jerry Dee, Ron James, Lighthouse, The Stampeders, David Clayton Thomas, Bruce Cockburn and our Orillia’s hometown boy, Gordon Lightfoot.PHOTO CREDIT: Ontario’s Lake Country

The Port of Orillia is host to the Spring Boat Show, Christmas in June and the Orillia Waterfront Festival all attracting visitors and boaters from afar for great music, food and shopping from local artists, artisans and nearby vendors.

Provisioning in Orillia is easy. Grocery stores, liquor stores and bakeries are all easily accessible, as well as a variety of shops selling clothing, toys and likely the perfect souvenir (or two).

Whether you stay for the day or a week, I promise you that each day will offer you another charming surprise.

LeacockThis summer home, located on Old Brewery Bay, was built for Stephen Leacock, world-renowned humourist. 
The Town of Orillia purchased the property in 1957 and established the Stephen Leacock Memorial Home.
In 1978, the now City of Orillia designated the residence under the Ontario Heritage Act, and in 1983 the Ontario Heritage Trust secured a heritage easement on the building. The building was designated a National Historic Site in 1992. General admission is by donation only. However, if you go, enjoy “Teas” of the Season”– unlimited tea with some seasonal treats in Leacock’s enchanting dining room.PHOTO CREDIT: Ontario’s Lake Country

Brook Mcllroy Architects

The design of the building is reflective of the beautiful natural setting of Centennial and Couchiching Beach Parks through the use of glass walls that face the park and water on three sides.

PHOTO CREDIT: Brook Mcllroy Architects

 






Inside Rendering

Large natural wood timbers inside create a warm and inviting space and they extend outside to showcase a large shaded canopy space with lake views for park visitors and boaters. The building was designed to accommodate year-round use.

PHOTO CREDIT: Brook Mcllroy Architects

 

 

 

 

 



ArtworkStreets Alive! is an annual outdoor art event in downtown Orillia open to the public all summer long. It draws locals, cottagers, boaters and tourists to Orillia’s downtown streets to boost the local economy and instill a sense of civic pride. On the left, an entry for 2011, Project, 60 Sails. On the right, it was all about the concept of story, Story Poles in 2016. The Streets Alive! project for 2017 — Maple Masterpieces, celebrating the 150th anniversary of both Canada and Orillia — is now underway.

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