Bay of Quinte Tourism

7 Surprising Facts About the Historic Trent-Severn Waterway

Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway

According to Parks Canada, nearly one and a half million visitors enjoy the unique and beautiful canal and lock system of the Trent-Severn Waterway every year.  Read on to learn about this fabulous national historic site.

  1. It’s Called a Linear Park for Good Reason!

Thinking of traversing this piece of history by boat? To cover the entire canal allow about a week for a one-way trip. Better yet, access the new Trent-Severn Waterway app and calculate your own holiday planner by plugging in personal speed averages. Along the way you’ll navigate through 386 kilometres of gorgeous waterway, stretching from the City of Quinte West on Lake Ontario’s beautiful Bay of Quinte in the south to faraway Georgian Bay on Lake Huron.  

  1. The First Voyagers

Archaeological findings indicate First Nations groups utilized the waterways’ lakes and connecting rivers from at least 9000 B.C.E. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, 17th century traders paddled this complex system themselves, hoping to make their fortunes in fur. Frequent traveller Samuel de Champlain explored the area extensively, seeking new turf in the name of New France. In fact, early entrepreneurs in a very young and yet unnamed Canada once considered Prince Edward County and the upper Trent River area an important hub for New World trade and commerce!

  1. The Canal That Almost Wasn’t

Though the push for an inland waterway started way back in the late 1700’s, actual construction took quite a while. Early settlers and timber barons started lobbying the British Crown early on, hoping to access lucrative markets in the south. More often than not, their efforts ran up against bureaucratic barricades.  At long last, Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald took up the cause, but building still continued in sporadic bits and bursts. Long before Bobcaygeon gained fame via the iconic Tragically Hip song, the tiny Ontario town made the map as site of the waterway’s first wooden lock in 1833. Final construction of the rest of this incredible canal took another eighty-seven years!

  1. The Arrival of Tourism

Once the industrial revolution introduced the concept of leisure time to an eager and growing middle class, Victorian era folks started seeking outdoor rest and recreation along the waterway’s scenic shorelines. What better way to wile away a free afternoon? Pack a picnic, put on your knees-to-collar bathing costume and grab your sweetie! And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget the chaperone!

  1. No Boat? No Problem!

Sailor? Landlubber? No matter your transportation choice, the Trent-Severn Waterway offers lots to see and do for travellers of all stripes. Traditionalists without watercraft of their own can test their sea legs via boat rental, while road trippers should know locks generally feature extensive picnic areas, public washrooms and space to park your car. Within easy reach of Highway 401,  Lock 1 at Trenton is a great place to start. Carry on up to Lock 3 at Glen Miller and hike over to check out the Bleasdell Boulder, an imposing erratic left over from ancient glacial activity.  Afterwards, reward the kids with some time at the splash pad near Lock 6 in Frankford. 

  1.  Ups and Downs

Did you know boats travelling the Trent-Severn waterway from Lake Ontario climb over 180 metres to the canal’s highest point in Kirkfield? Sailors forging on to Lake Huron enjoy a gradual 79 metre descent, passing through 10 locks to accomplish this watery step-like task. In all, the canal features more than 40 locks, including two hydraulic lift locks.

On the search for yet more elevating thrills? Check out the marine railway at Big Chute or Lock 44. The only functioning apparatus of its kind in North America, this stunning feat of canal engineering cradles boats up and out of the water by means of inclined plane. Frequented by marine and car tourists alike, this lock makes a great spot for exciting photo opportunities as boat traffic journeys across highway to the next part of the canal, all via a short stretch of railway tracks.

  1.  What’s Your Hurry?

Loving the Trent-Severn experience? Consider staying a while. Lockage, mooring and camping permits can be purchased at all lock stations. And while boaters wishing to sleep on terra firma get priority, select locks also allow cyclists and hikers with valid permits to pitch a tent when space allows. Stay put for up to 5 days at the first eighteen locks, starting at the Bay of Quinte entry point. Other locations impose a one or two day limit. Content to sleep aboard your boat but short on mooring space? Don’t worry; rafting alongside other vessels works, provided you have a permit, the owner of the other boat gives permission and the lock has closed down operations for the day. Happy sailing and good night!

Find the Trent-Severn Waterway on Instagram, and stay up-to-date with events and resources in the City of Quinte West on Facebook.

Be sure to check out our events calendar, follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and sign up for our newsletter for more of what happens here in the BoQ.

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.

© 2023 Bay of Quinte Region | © TripAdvisor 2023

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.