Friday 29 September 2023
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Locks to Visit around Ontario

Peterborough Lift Locks

by Lori Straus

As a kid, I frequently traveled to the family cottage in Port Severn, where we’d occasionally stop at the Big Chute to watch the boats travel up and down its track. Watching it both bored and thrilled me as a kid. Like all children, I had little patience for something that took too long. At the same time, the yellow platform carried boats! The Big Chute is one of 45 locks in the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario and one of the three I’ll highlight in this post.

Trent-Severn Waterway

The Trent-Severn Waterway connects Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay. Its system of locks was built between 1879 and 1920 and briefly served the logging industry. (Once rail and road transportation became more convenient, the logging industry shifted gears.) The system is 383 km long. No longer used for primarily commercial purposes, it’s become a focus for warm-weather travel and vacationing.

Peterborough Lift Lock

This lock in Peterborough received its designation as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1979. It opened in 1904 and lifts boats 19.8 m to help them continue along the Trent-Severn Waterway.

The Peterborough Lift Lock is the largest hydraulic lift in the world and the first of two built in North America. It “was reputed to be the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world,” according to the heritage designation record.

Almost 600 visitors have given this location an average of 4.5/5 on TripAdvisor. Definitely a not-to-be-missed Ontario attraction.

Big Chutes Marine RailwayBig Chute Marine Railway

The yellow platform is on wheels and it travels up and down a track, the boats suspended in slings. The Big Chute in its current form was constructed in 1977 and opened in 1978. It takes about seven minutes to travel in one direction (shows how long my childhood attention span was) and can help up to 180 boats a day travel through the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Kirkfield Lift Lock

Kirkfield Lift Lock


Like its sibling, the Peterborough Lift Lock, the Kirkfield Lift Lock is hydraulic. It’s located at the highest point along the Trent-Severn Waterway, at 256.2 m, just north of the town of Kirkfield. However, it’s the

shorter of the two, at only 15 m tall.

You Don’t Need a Boat to Enjoy

Certainly, driving along the Trent-Severn Waterway is faster than boating, but it still makes for a wonderful family trip. Historic tours, riverboat cruises, and nearby camping facilities can help you and your family enjoy the surrounding nature and discover the diverse methods of engineering in the lock system.

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