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Trent-Severn Waterway:
Ontario's Holiday Highway

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a series of canals joining up a number of large and small lakes along a line from Trenton, on Lake Ontario to Port Severn, on Georgian Bay.

With a total length of around 390 km of watery bliss for sailors, the Trent-Severn Waterway is Ontario's Holiday Highway for pleasure craft of all normal sizes.

The easiest way for a visitor to enjoy the canal is to hire a houseboat. There are a number of companies that rent houseboats along the canal so decide what part of the country you want to see and select your rental by that.

Houseboats aren't always simple to manage, particularly in tight spots such as moorings, but they are slow enough and well 'fendered' enough to be harmless even if something is bumped. 

The houseboat rental company will provide instruction on handling, maps, and most items of furnishings so you don't really need to bring much more than yourself, your swimsuit, and food. And you don't need a licence.

Please note: drinking and driving is an offence in Ontario even on boats.

Trent-Severn Waterway -- Plain Sailing

Trent Severn Waterway, scenic view

The canal was originally built, like canals everywhere, to move goods to market. In this case, avoiding the trip through Lakes Ontario, Erie, St Clair, and much of Huron. In particular, it avoided the difficulties around getting through the Niagara Escarpment before the Welland Ship canal was built.

Once the Welland canal was open, however, the Trent-Severn canal couldn't compete. It's much too small and shallow for modern commercial shipping, which makes it perfect for pleasure boats. 

Trent Severn Waterway, view along the canal

Today it's the haunt of everything from canoes to large power cruisers and everything in between. Houseboats are a popular choice and can be rented at many points along the way. They have to be because travelling the full length of the waterway is a time consuming pleasure that becomes a life's work if you also explore the lakes too.

Houseboats are an ideal way to cruise the waterway as there are plenty of quiet bays and islands to tie up alongside for the night. And those quiet evenings and mornings, before the 'boy racers' are up, is when you see wildlife and/or hear the quiet sounds of the country. The birds' Dawn Chorus is the loudest thing you'll hear for the first hour of most days.

Not that you want every night to be so isolated and it needn't be. All along the waterway there are small, and not so small, towns with bars and restaurants catering to boaters. Many have been in business catering to boaters for decades. Just don't let the party atmosphere spill over to the boat. I repeat, being drunk in charge of a boat is an offence in Ontario. 

Trent-Severn Waterway Lift Locks -- The Fun Locks

Trent Severn Waterway, lift lock

There are some large, scary locks on the waterway, like the Lift Locks at Peterborough (shown here from the top approach and below for the bottom approach) and Kirkfield. The good news is these locks have professional lock keepers to manage them and, if you choose your location wisely, you don't have to go near them unless you want to.

The other good news is the waterway was designed to be as level as possible so there aren't as many locks as you might imagine. It was built, after all, in the days before people had much access to heavy lifting equipment out on the then frontier. 

Trent Severn Waterway, Peterborough liftlock

Towns along the waterway include Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, Lindsay (off the main route), Peterborough, Lakehead and Campbellford.

Lakes to explore include Simcoe, Scugog, Rice, Pigeon, and Couchiching.

Attractions along the waterway include Healey and Ranney Falls flight locks, Peterborough and Kirkfield lift locks, and Big Chute Marine Railway. At the western end is the Georgian Bay Islands National Park.

Visit Parks Canada's Trent-Severn Waterway page for more details. 

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