Canada! The Trent-Severn at last! Engineering and nature wonders

We have waited 3 years for the Canadian border to open fully to boaters! It did open late last summer, but too late in the season for us to retrace our route after spending June and July returning her to Maine. But here we are!!

Finally started on the Trent-Severn national historical waterway after two nights at Port Trenton Marina, taking a rest day and doing the necessities: laundry, pump out, clean up, provisioning, and walking to explore the area. It may seem like we provision frequently – and we do – because we have limited storage for fresh foods so we need to replenish frequently when we can. We have a small RV-sized fridgerator/freezer and a cooler, but we eat lots of fruits and veggies so we are always on the lookout for opportunities to restock them.

The Trent Severn Waterway (a national historic site) is 240 miles long and runs roughly west from Trenton on Lake Ontario to Port Severn on Georgian Bay. It has a storied history, taking nearly 90 years and 19 million to complete, spurred on by military, economic, and political forces. In 1834, the first lock construction was granted at Bobcaygenon, and was made of wood, 120 feet long and 28 feet wide with a lift of 10 feet, connecting two lakes, Sturgeon and Pigeon. However, when water was let into the system it was a disaster. The lock had been built at the wrong level and on porous rock, causing the water entering the upper side of the lock to literally disappear into the ground, and never filling the lock! Engineering fail!

In addition, we got a great prep session for the TS from the local AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruising Association) Harborhosts, Eric and Karen during “docktails” last night, a boater’s version of cocktails. They have given us many resources as well as local knowledge tips as they have been helping Loopers for years in this area. They also took these great pictures of us entering the TS.

Fenders out – ready to lock through!
Lock 1 of the TSW! Two young ladies worked this lock and provided great info and encouragement.

Lots of locks on the first day – all great, friendly, and with varying levels of flower and veggie gardens: Trenton, Sydney, Glenn Miller, Batavia, Trent, and Frankford. Many of the locks are manually opened and some have manual valves, so the staff stay fit and busy cranking gears. The Canadian Park staff are helpful and outgoing, happy to answer our questions (which have to be repetitive). We opted to spend the night at Lock 6 Frankford – According to the guide, the (now retired) lock master started at age 3 helping his family run the lock and continued until retirement at age 78. We moored on the upper wall next to the large willow tree that he planted as a youth.

There were two other looper boats with us on the dock wall and on the western wall, a man named Tom who was having an “adventure,” traveling by dinghy and tenting at the lock parks! He had previously completed the loop with his wife, and after her death, he’s been revisiting some of their favorite parts. We had picnic table docktails with Tom, and Darrell and Pam aboard “Mirth.” They are about to complete their loop, finishing up in their home port in Michigan within the next month. As always, so many stories to share.

Quiet night in a beautiful setting, for once nice and cool! Awoke to mist on the canal and continued cool temps. Had a nice morning walk before heading out (northwest), about 40 minutes after the other boats had set out – we are enjoying a more leisurely pace “because we can.” So many boaters, especially Loopers, seem to be on a tight schedule and tend to rush along, waving at the beautiful spots. We are a slow trawler for a reason and are enjoying the sites. Happy to have them have the first lock through of the day!

What a beautiful day on the water (8/10)! Traveled through some lovely canals, rivers bordered by extensive marshes, past fishing shacks on low islands as well as fancy lake houses. Very shallow, and the marked canal narrow and curvy, requiring us to pay close attention to the charts and the marks.

Some of the locks had the original 1914 lock houses, now offices, from when the lockmaster lived at the lock and worked 24/7. Lots of herons, swans, kingfishers, small boat fishermen, and kayakers along the way, as well as a steady stream of boas heading the opposite way – southeast – which we hadn’t seen before. There is much more boat traffic, it seems, on the Trent Severn than what we experienced on the Erie Canal.

We passed through 5 locks today, including a double “flight” of locks in Rainey Falls (locks 11 and 12), also referred to as a two chambered lock. This hydraulic lock has metal doors 5 stories high between the two chambers. You rise 24’ in the first chamber, then the doors open allowing us to move forward into the second chamber for another 24’ ride up. A large lift in a short distance! Sometimes they lock traffic in both directions but we were alone all day in the locks.

Double chambered lock elevating us 48’

In one section, above/north of lock 9, we saw evidence of logging “cribs” just on the edge of the channel. Loggers built these cribs in the waterway over 100 years ago to guide the logs down the river by attaching a series of logs between the cribs (called a boom) so the other logs could pass in a controlled manner without entering the boating channel. We would see multiple crib areas scattered throughout the lakes.

Remnants of the series of cribs, guiding the logs

These cool shelters are appearing alongside some of the locks, part of Park Canada. They are next to the river/canal, raised off the ground and had a nearby platform with a grill, picnic table, and a fire pit. Lots of canoe and kayak (and dinghy) camping happening on the waterway!

After the double lock, we soon landed in the town of Campbellford which boaters and lock guides describe as a “must-see” town, docking at the Old Mill Park, managed by the Chamber of Commerce. Walls on both side of the canal are extensive, and the park-side has Chamber of Commerce with WiFi, bathrooms, showers, and a small vegetable garden. We were graced with an outdoor country concert in the local bandstand which was a toe-tapper.

In the park, there is a tall statute commemorating the local artist that designed the “Toonie,” Canada’s two dollar coin. Our friend, Steve Dettman, tells us there is a story to this coin: “As the now-famous story goes, the federal government only authorized the loonie design after the original master dies were lost while in transit in November 1986. The coin was initially slated to depict the voyageur design used on earlier Canadian silver dollars.” The reverse side is a bear.

Walk about town, including the required search for ice cream (success!) and to find the “World’s Finest Chocolate” Factory outlet store. Wonderful aromas from the factory, and we did get some dark chocolate covered almonds and cranberries.

Random delight – the squirrels in Canada are a deep midnight black color and somehow that makes them cuter. Can’t seem to catch a picture of them though!

The Park Canada locks and parks are pretty wonderful and a definite upgrade from the NY Canal locks. There is a fee for the Park Canada locks and for mooring, but we bought an early season pass back in March, hopeful that we’d make it to Canada this year. Each lock have two staff, a lock office, and often bathrooms and showers. They often have flowers beds and are usually shaded with trees. We learned that previously the lock parks were planted with elm trees, but those trees were killed off by the Dutch elm disease and replanted with aspen. Now, sadly, the aspen are being killed by an invasive bore.

Love the morning glory “sail” on this boat- Lock 14

We are meeting lots of friendly lock staff and it varies from older men (one had been a lock master full time for 31 years) to younger men and young women. Some are seasonal staff, others work through the winter managing the water levels and doing repairs. I personally love to see a “ladies lock team” handling the hydraulic doors, the swing bridges, and manually opening and closing the gates. Many teams are mixed male/female. All are super professional and courteous.

Wandered through a series of lakes with beautiful camps, lake houses, pontoon boats, and wild marshy areas. Seems like perfect setting to see a moose but to no avail.

Lock offices in an old lockmaster house. The flowers!!

5 locks total for the day, including another double chambered flight, locks 16 and 17 at Healy Falls, lifting us more than 54’ which was pretty amazing. I was unable to find how many gallons of water were moved each time the locks were used, but the lockmaster estimated 500 million gallons.

We finished the day at the Hastings town dockwall, just above Lock 18. Sweet little town, known for it’s fishing!

Pisces Pete, the 14’ walleye sculpture

Surprisingly quiet night on 8/11 at the lock wall, with a full Sturgeon moon overhead and stellar stars. It was cool enough that we needed a blanket to sleep and the cabin closed up for once. We had a nice surprise visit from a local Monk 36’ owner, Steve Sharpe, who is about to start their Great Loop in a week! Always fun to chat “Monks” and “Loops” for a bit. His boat is named “Chipmonk,” and is a similar year/version to our boat. After the visit, we hopped on our bikes and rode on the Trans Canada rail trail, which was an old steam engine railway bed, now used for biking and snowmobiling. Felt good to be biking!

As soon as we left Hasting, we entered the narrow and eastern portion of Rice Lake, cruising about 2/3 of the lake until the TS Waterway then enters the Otonabee River to head north. The river starts very narrow, with lots of little day fishermen and pontoon boats cruising the beautiful low marshland, and we veered off the river into a small tributary, finding a gorgeous and secluded anchorage. We spent two days here, not only because it was so secluded and lovely, but also to avoid the crowds over the weekend at other spots. Osprey, turtles, water lilies and large fields of cat n nine tail surrounded us. We had several great kayaks exploring the little channels, and two very quiet nights.

Colorful captain kayaking
I think this large turtle is called a Musk turtle, secretes stinky stuff from it’s glands to ward off predators; also called “Stinkpot,” which seems apropos

Rice Lake, nearly 20 miles long and 3miles wide, was apparently the site of extensive wild rice beds that the native Indians harvested. Wild rice needs fluctuating water levels to survive, so the wild rice died out once the TS Waterway was completed and the water levels became regulated with the dams. Rice Lake is the second largest lake on the water and links back into the TS waterway at the Otonabee River. It boasts the most fish per acre of any lake in Ontario: muskellunge, bass, walleye, catfish, perch, and sunfish. We saw loads of fisherman in small boats, especially around our anchorage.

We left our quiet anchorage and headed to “the big city.” Peterborough ON is the largest city on the Trent-Severn Waterway with a population of ~ 80,000. It has everything a small city can offer, including museums, galleries, parks, music, restaurants, ice cream, and bike/walk paths. And a lake water fountain!

Commemorates Canada’s Centennial, shooting water up 76 meters. At night it is colored.

We have read about and heard about the Peterborough Lift Lock (Lock 21) for years and were excited to finally experience it. Built between 1896 and 1904 of unreinforced concrete, it was one of the world’s largest concrete structures at that time and was/is considered an engineering wonder. Imagine thinking of this and implementing on such a large scale!

This left side pan is raised, the right side pan is at water level

The lift lock raises and lowers boats in in two water full steel chambers. Each chamber is amazing in itself: 140 feet long, holds about 228,000 gallons weighing 1700 tons. The two chambers are linked by a closed water hydraulic system and the 7.5 foot diameter chamber rams lift 65 feet. Any movement of one chamber forces an equal and opposite movement of the other chamber. Reminds me a bit of the footplates on an elliptical machine-push down on one, the other rises.

To transfer boats, the upper chamber is overbalanced by taking on an extra foot of water. When the valve connecting the hydraulic rams is opened, the heavier upper chamber travels downward, forcing the opposite chamber an equal distance upward. Now picture boats sitting in the chamber, with us aboard! The transfer only takes < 2 minutes to complete, but the loading and unloading can take up to 45 minutes. When we walked up to view the lock the day before, we saw a mix of trawlers, houseboats, jet skis, and kayaks!

Morning of 8/15, we were surprised by the parade of boats streaming out of the Peterborough Marina to line up at Lock 20 where we were docked, all in anticipation of doing the Peterborough Lift Lock #21. 4 big boats, some houseboats, and 10 jet skis piled in for the first lock through. We opted to jump out of the parade, go to the marina for water and a pump out, and do a later lock through. So glad we did – we had one other boat, Inspiration, a 44’ Krogen that we had met before travel with us for the day, and it as much calmer and more enjoyable. Little chats between boats in the lock chambers can be wonderful. The Lift Lock was fun, super smooth with no turbulence as we were lifted in a bathtub of sorts up 65’ with stunning views from the top. So strange to be above the waterway, on the top of a hill with views of the town below – from a boat!

Dean captured this shot from the upper helm at the top of the Peterborough Lift Lock – what a bizarre perspective!
Dean at the stern, holding us in the pan.
I didn’t have as cool a view in the bow!

We then traveled on for the day through the narrow and shallow waterways from Peterborough to Lakefield. Lots of submerged rocks along the edges of the marked canals and shallow edges with limestone ledges. Only 10 nautical miles over 6 hours, but lots of slow locks along the way each one fairly close to the next so not much time between locks. The terrain has changed from lakes, resort camps, and cottages to more fields and farms. We enjoyed chatting while maneuvering the locks with Jerry and Diana aboard Inspiration, as well as the professional and friendly Parks Canada lock staff. Tied up on the wall above Lock 26/Lakefield at the nice lock park with hydro/power and showers! Walked to town, another quaint town with beautiful flowers, Little Librarys for book exchanges, and a very convenient grocery store. We ate outdoors at a pub, Canoe & Paddle, and especially enjoyed a large fresh salad (and sweet potato fries!)

8/16 was our last day of moving forward on the Trent Severn, for now. Time to turn back to get to Clayton NY for our winter storage, and home for fall and family events. We cruised from Lakefield/Lock 26 to Lovesick Lake at Lock 30, passing through Lake Katchewanooka, Lock 27/Young’s Point, Clear Lake, Stoney Lake, Burleigh Falls/Lock 28, and up to Lock 30/Lovesick Lake. There is no lock 29 for those keeping score. And we had the most amazing cruising – the highlight of this year’s trip.

We are in an area called the Kawartha Lakes: Upper Chemong, Buckhorn, Clear, Pigeon, Stoney, Sturgeon, Cameron, Balsam, Katchewanooka. This beautiful series of lakes is spotted with islands of all sizes, some so small they are merely boulder or series of boulders, others just large enough to house a camp or cottage and a boathouse, and others large enough for several houses. Some merely have a dock and a cleared tent site. The landscape reminds us of Maine coastal islands within fresh water lakes. There are lots of islands, rocks, and shallows, which force most of us to go slowly and inhale the beauty. The geology has changed from the limestone “stacks” lining most of the waterway south of here, to rocky Precambrian landscape which they say is more characteristic of Georgian Bay. This area truly is “Maine on steroids.” It was breathtaking.

Lots of boathouses, small fishing boats, and jet skis

There is an amazing area called Hell’s Gate passage (maybe called this because it looks hellish on the chart) on Stoney Lake but the narrow passages were well marked. On a small island in Hell’s Gate is St Peters-on-the-Rock Anglican church. This beautiful church, built in 1914, covers most of the small rocky island, and has services in July and August. Attendees from the island cottages come by boat!

Would love to see the inside and attend a service here.
Gotta love loons!

Lock 30/Lovesick Lake apparently is one of the most desireable lock walls to stay at. It is on a small island, Mileage Island, and the lockmasters have to arrive to work by boat from Burleigh Falls. Two young women were competently handling the lock and all the transient traffic. This is a big area for rental houseboats with varying degrees of boating experience, which keeps them (and us) on their toes.

There are multiple legends around the name of Lovesick Lake. Here’s the version posted at the lock:

Wolf Island is attached to Mileage Island by Lock 30 and the dam so we were able to cross over and hike the trails. There is a canoe portage and rustic campgrounds along with reportedly bear and raccoons. We saw scat but no other evidence. But we did enjoy the hauntingly beautiful loon cries.

Canoe portage alongside the dam and lock.
Lots of rustic campsites on Wolf Island.

This area is full of houseboats! Some private, but mostly rental houseboats filled with families. It’s the perfect way to experience the lakes and locks, especially for family’s who are new to boating. One 50’ rental houseboat we chatted with had two families aboard including~ 8 teens, and they were having a fabulous time buzzing around, including visiting the Burleigh Falls. Braver than I to surf those rapids!

So as we reverse direction, it’s good to document our stats to date:

  • MILES traveled:
    • Kittery Point to the start of the Erie Canal/Waterford NY: 412.3 nm
    • Erie and Oswego Canals: 143.6 nm
    • Across Lake Ontario to Trenton ON: 90.7 nm
    • Trent Severn to Lock 80: 101.1 nm
    • Total 747.7 nm = 861miles since leaving Kittery on 7/15/22
  • LOCKS:
    • 29 locks on the Trent Severn (heading northwest)
    • 7 Locks on the Oswego
    • 25 Locks on the Hudson/Erie Canal (we did one 3 times 🙂
    • 61 locks total to our farthest point: Lovesick Lake ON
    • 792 feet above sea level at Lovesick Lake, our highest lake so far

So we reverse direction on the Trent-Severn waterway and lock down, knowing that, God willing, we will be back next year to fully complete this gorgeous waterway and emerge into Georgian Bay. We will poke our way back along the TS waterway, explore new areas and anchorages, then traverse the northeast edge of Lake Ontario to Kingston, and cross to Clayton NY where we will winter the boat. So thankful we got in two months of boat travel after a rocky spring/early summer.

Especially thankful my sistah, Donna, is moving along with her cancer treatment and starting to interact again. And the brothers are learning to cohabitate in relative peace. We are super excited to return home for the arrival of Gage and Kate’s baby girl in November, our first grandbaby. God is good, all the time.

By the grace of God we go,

~ Karen and Dean

Categories: 2022, Trent Severn Waterway, Uncategorized


  1. Looks amazing and great summary. Seems so early that you are already turning around.


  2. What a great trip you’ve had! Thanks for taking us along.


  3. It’s all so fascinating and beautiful! Thank you for painting us such a vivid picture of your journeys!

    Liked by 1 person

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