Canadian Wonderland


While cruising across Lake Ontario I recall looking behind me and marveling at how crystal clear the white spray was from our wake. As it cascaded away from our boat and disappeared out of sight I began to reflect on the prior six months we spent in tidal currents and salt water. We did enjoy salt water cruising immensely and we met many interesting folks, we also had the opportunity to visit many great towns and we’ll do it again. However, being fresh water boaters all our lives, returning to the crystal clear water while crossing Lake Ontario there was a warm spot in our minds and hearts as we crossed the big lake and neared the entrance to the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW) in Trenton, Ontario.

Canadians are very warm and welcoming people and when on the water the friendliness starts in Trenton, Ontario at the beginning of the TSW.

After crossing Lake Ontario and spending the night in the small picturesque town of Picton, we continued our journey to Trenton. The shoreline of today’s 38-mile run through the beautiful waters of the Bay of Quinte was dotted with small cottages and large farms – this was our first taste of the pleasures that lie ahead of us as we neared the TSW. Originally built to transport goods and raw materials from Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario, today this waterway system serves a dual purpose of providing not only hydroelectric power but also a water wonderland for tourists, boaters, kayakers, canoeist, tubers and fisherman alike.

Although the construction of the lock system was started in the early 1800s it was not officially opened from Trenton to Port Severn until the last two-mile stretch was completed with the final lock 90 years later, in 1920. In all, there are 44 unique locking experiences; most of them are still operated manually. The TSW is 240 miles long and it provides a great opportunity to see the rural, waterside, cottage life of Ontario – you can only really fully appreciate the uniqueness of this canal and lock system by boat.

In all Lisa and I spent two weeks in the TSW, which, in hindsight, was not nearly, enough time. We could have easily spent a month or more soaking up the protected waters, small towns, secluded anchorages and summer festivals that lie along the banks of the Trent-Severn Waterway. Our journey started in earnest when we departed Trent for a 9-hour cruise through 12 locks on our way to Campbellford, Ontario.

I mentioned earlier that most of the locks are operated manually and haven’t been converted to modern technology with the exception of only a few. Once you are secured inside of the lock two lock tenders come out and manually turn a large turnstile, which in turn moves the gears that close or open the lock doors. Once the doors are closed and the water lowered or raised the two lock tenders open the opposite end of the lock by again turning the exiting doors turnstile and once open, out you go.

In route to Campbellford, in one such lock, after we had secured our boats, Lisa and another boater, Mary (from another boat we were traveling with) were invited by the lockmaster to step off our boats and become the muscle to move the turnstile and open the doors. Round and round they went, kind of like the ponies at a carnival ride. I recall Lisa and Mary stated that although it was a fun, memorable experience it was a lot of work and they were glad they didn’t have to do this at each lock.

Mary and Lisa are getting a little exercise as they open the lock walls. I wonder how many breaks the lock tenders get by us boaters volunteering to do their work?

Once you get into the more open lakes area there are many anchoring possibilities but most of our nights, while traveling on the TSW, are spent tied against town or lock walls. In Campbellford, we tied up to a wall adjacent to a city park centrally located to town. Next to the park is a giant size replica of the Canadian two-dollar coin, which was designed by a local artist. They call this one the Toonie vs. the one-dollar coin that’s called the Loonie. Campbellford is a charming town, with many old, picturesque, Victorian homes. After having breakfast in town at an authentic Irish restaurant we made our way to a local bakery, farmers market and finally to the Chocolate Factory. It was a relaxing way to spend the morning. Wouldn’t it be great if all days were like this? However, reality set in, and we were compelled to move on.

They’re proud of their “Toonie,” and the local artist who designed it, as presented by this more than life-size piece of art.

Peterborough, Ontario is the largest city we’ve been to since we stayed in New York City and we decided to stay for a few days at the City Marina to enjoy the town and get caught up on chores. Besides seven loads of laundry, which accumulated over the last few weeks of anchoring and tying to lock walls, we visited the Peterborough Lift Lock and the Canadian Canoe Museum.

There are two lift locks on the TSW this one, in Peterborough, plus another at Kirkfield. They are about as thrilling a ride as one can have while going through a lock. I recently read a description, written by some Canadian boating friends of ours, that I think best describes how it works. Bob and Charlotte are on a boat called Foreign Exchange and this is how they explain a lift lock:

“Just beyond Peterborough is the Peterborough Lift Lock – an ingenious piece of engineering. In simple terms you drive into a large bathtub, when the gates are closed, water is added to the upper tub making it heavier. As the upper tub drops it forces the lighter bottom tub up where you drive off. When you are at the top the treetops are below you and the guarding to stop you from falling is minimal. Didn’t seem to bother the Admiral though.”

The tub on the left is the one we entered when we left Peterborough, as it is raised the tub on right lowers to let in bound boats exit. Here’s a shot of the inside of a tub with no boats being lifted. You simply drive in, tie to the side wall and begin your 65-foot lift.

Amazingly, this lock has been in operation since its completion in 1904 and is only one of eight of its type in the world, this being the largest one. Because we had time we hiked over to the lock to learn more about its operation and to take a tour. We’ve learned that if you’ve never done something before it’s good to gather as much information as you can before attempting it yourself. So, we watched other boats come into the lift lock tub and be lifted 65 feet into the air and exit at the topside. We climbed the stairs to the topside so we could see the amazing view of the countryside and watch the boats being lifted from the canal side, floating in this big tub of water, and finally set out high on top of lift on the other side. It’s worked for over 100 years and we were excited to think we would be taking part in this, not so modern, marvel in just a couple of days.

The next day, while Lisa was taking care of what seemed like two months of laundry, I wandered off and literally stumbled into the Canadian Canoe Museum ( This isn’t just any old museum; it’s the only museum of its kind in North America and has over 580 canoes and kayaks on display. I spent a couple of hours (just enough time for Lisa to finish the laundry – well planned on my part I’d say) admiring the ingenuity and craftsmanship of this fabulous collection. While traveling the Great Loop we’ve had an opportunity to visit many unique and interesting museums but the Canadian Canoe Museum, for me, is right up there as one of the best.

The Canadian Canoe Museum was a great find. I say find because I was just going for a walk and had no idea I’d end up at this wonderful place.

After our restful stay in Peterborough we left for what I call a “short-long” day. It was short in that we only ended up traveling ten miles but it was long in that we had eight locks to lock through, each taking a minimum of ½ hour. The first, of course, was the 65-foot lift at Peterborough. We were fortunate that we did not have to wait long at every lock because we were traveling mid-week and did not have to deal with the busy weekend traffic.

When we left Peterborough we only had a rough idea of where we’d end up for the night, but we knew that our preference was to anchor out. As we were tied up in one of the locks we struck up a conversation with another boater, and local, who directed us to one of his favorite anchorages at Juniper Island. As we made our way, on our “short-long” day, the Canadian landscape gradually turned into the most beautiful we’d seen in Canada up to this point. Small cottages built on the rocky shores blended into the environment in a way that made us feel like we were traveling in another, more familiar to us, Canadian gem, the one called the North Channel, which is part of our old cruising grounds.

Juniper Island is one of those places that once you’ve been, you’ll always want to return.

We left the main channel of the TSW to transit around to the backside of Juniper Island and found a secluded spot to call home for the night. We had a spectacular evening with plenty of sunlight left to enjoy our first swim in the fresh, clean water since we were last in the Great Lakes some nine months ago. We had dinner on the cockpit deck and spent a quiet evening listening to the loons sing, watching fish jump around our boat and just enjoying this Canadian wonderland – and to think we’re only half way into the Trent-Severn Waterway.