Dec 20, 2020
Ontario’s best-kept secret, the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic site holds the key to boating bliss in the time of pandemic-era travel. An epic 386km long, this historic navigable network of gorgeous lakes and rivers invites you to plan an endless array of mini holidays from one Great Lake to another. It’s time you rediscover this national treasure 100 years in the making and experience the growing community culture along Canada’s stunning inland passageway.
By Dan Post
“Where do we go from here?”
It’s a question on the minds of many anxious travelers as we head into a winter season marked by uncertainty for the future of exploration. But for Canadian boaters, especially those living in Ontario, the outlook for adventure in 2021 is far less bleak when you realize that you have 386km of navigable waterway in your own backyard. There’s no question that COVID-19 has altered the way we travel, causing many of us to start thinking locally about opportunities for adventure. The Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site affords visitors just that. Spanning two separate watersheds and countless charming towns, the Trent-Severn Waterway offers us a chance to connect with the outdoors and discover ‘local’, while travelling through a series of historic locks, learning about the story of Canada and marveling at a feat of human ingenuity built a century ago.
The Trent-Severn Waterway today
Travel along the Trent-Severn Waterway’s navigation system is made possible today through the stewardship of Parks Canada and its commitment to preserving, protecting and presenting this historic site. Each navigation season, dedicated teams of trained Lockmasters and operators take up their post at the 44 individual locks from Trenton to Port Severn, to help boaters “lock through” for the next leg of their journey. A seasonal lockage permit allows visitors unlimited passage throughout the entire season (May – Oct) and overnight mooring is offered at almost every lockstation along the way. The spirited conversation, insider travel tips, and historical anecdotes that Parks Canada is known for sharing, make the time spent between the lock walls as memorable as the time spent cruising to the next one.
A lot has changed on the Trent in the hundred years since it became a fully connected navigation channel, and today, the same communities that grew up around the fur trade and timber mills continue to evolve into a new era of vibrant waterfront tourism ripe with local food, burgeoning arts scenes, and recreational trail networks that go on and on. Boating has changed too. A trip that once might have taken a couple of weeks to complete is now doable in a couple of well-planned days thanks to advancements in modern equipment and a wellspring of overnight accommodations. It’s now easier than ever to string together a couple of days here and there, building a custom boating excursion that ticks all the boxes.
When you are cruising the Trent, don’t be shy about docking for an afternoon either. The growing off-boat appeal of the Trent-Severn Waterway is perhaps its greatest asset. More boaters today are seeing the cruising experience as a means to an end; a way to access the good food and great outdoors that await you at every stop. And now that everybody is looking closer to home for their next travel adventure, supporting local businesses and travelling with a purpose has never been easier.
2020 changed the way all of us experience the world, and Parks Canada too, had to adapt. Lock staff, responding to a rapidly changing public health crisis, were seeking ways to continue getting Canadian boaters out on the water safely. The solution? Nautical Distancing.
Typically known for a more hands-on approach to their lockages, Parks Canada’s Lockmasters and staff developed a new system for keeping the traffic moving and everyone safe, by asking boaters to crew their own lines, stay on their boat during lockages and to use cashless options when paying for their permits. Boating is already a great way to have fun while staying physically distanced and the added safety measures implemented by Parks Canada has allowed for the opportunity to continue travelling when so many other experiences have been cancelled.
With the safety of visitors and staff remaining a top priority for Parks Canada, boaters should expect this to be the new normal at lockstations for the foreseeable future. And don’t worry, because even with all the necessary new safety adjustments, the experience of locking remains as fun and friendly as ever.
A homegrown holiday
Nobody knows exactly what next season will hold, but one thing is for sure; Canadians will be planning a lot more #HolidaysAtHome and we have one the world’s finest boating experiences to call our own. On the Trent-Severn National Historic Site, it’s not about the destination, but the spaces in between. The moments we make for ourselves when we let the water guide us toward something new.
Whether you’re an ambitious angler who loves hopping from lake to lake in search of the big catch, or you’re a casual cruiser who’s always been curious to know what it’s like on the locks, 2021 is your year to start thinking about travelling the Trent. Because if 100 years has taught us anything, it’s the enduring legacy of our communities and the simple joy of discovering a natural treasure that’s been there all along.
[“TSW at a glance”]
• In 1920, the Trent-Severn Waterway was officially linked from end to end
• Indigenous people have called this land and water home well before European settlers arrived. Many sections of the Waterway are built along traditional paddling routes and Indigenous people continue to live along the waterway today, in thriving communities where many cultural traditions are still practiced.
• During the annual operating season (May – Oct) Parks Canada operates the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site as a navigation channel for recreational boating
• 42 individual locks connect 2 separate watersheds between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay
• Throughout the year, Parks Canada performs important duties related to Water Management for reasons of public safety, providing for recreational tourism, and mitigating environmental impact.
[Trent-Severn Trail Towns]
The Trent-Severn Trail towns program is a community-connecting initiative formed in the spirit of collaboration and a shared welcoming of visitors up and down the Waterway. Nine separate places have joined so far: Campbellford, Hastings, Lakefield, Buckhorn, Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls, Lindsay, Coboconk, and Rosedale. When you visit these communities and see the Trail Towns logo in the window of a local business, you know you’ve found a great butter tart, a tasty craft beer, or a trusted adventure outfitter. Plus: the many walking paths, cycling routes, and hiking trails that connect these places continue to grow longer every year.
Learn more online at:
Big Chute Marine Railway
You just have to see it to believe it. The only “marine railway” in North America, this imaginative masterpiece hoists your boat out of one lake, carries you over a highway, and sets you gently back down in the water on the other side. Just think about that for a second…
Rotary Greenway Trail
Beginning in Lakefield and taking you into Downtown Peterborough, this 14km mixed-use pathway is a beautiful way to stretch the legs. Along the way you’ll pass the Nassau Gate which protects the city below from a torrent of water. The trail also brings you close to the Trent University Nature Areas and its own network of serene walking trails. Near the end of the trail you’ll arrive at the iconic Peterborough Lift Lock.
Peterborough Lift Lock
A lot of folks have the Lift Lock on their staycation bucket list, and for good reason. This celebrated World’s Tallest Hydraulic Lift Lock makes for Facebook-worthy photo ops at every angle. A lot of boaters make an afternoon out of it, starting with a picnic in the park watching other boats go through, then a trip into the city, where dockside coffee shops and boutique downtown patios are serving up physically-distanced fun in the sun.