Trent-Severn Waterway

Famous for leisurely houseboat trips
through beautiful Ontario cottage country



trent severn canal The Trent-Severn Waterway is a Canadian National Historic Site made up of 386 kilometres (210 miles) of interconnected lakes and rivers stretching through central Ontario, Canada connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Huron via Georgian Bay. Known locally as the Trent Severn Canal this historic waterway is one of the province’s premier boating destinations and it traverses through the heart of Ontario’s “cottage country”.

With a multitude of lakes, rivers and streams along its path many of the regions largest communities have sprung up along its shores. Although small in comparison to many communities in Southern Ontario most are nevertheless very picturesque with attractions that make them summer destinations amongst locals and visitors alike.

Some of the larger communities along the Trent-Severn Waterway include:
  • City of Barrie, population 136,000
  • City of Peterborough, population 119,000
  • City of Orillia, population 30,500
  • City of Trenton, population 19,500
  • Municipality of Lindsay population 21,000
  • Township of Port Severn, population 12,500

Other popular yet smaller communities that swell with visitors in the summer tourist season include:
  • Town of Port Perry, population 9,500
  • Town of Beaverton, population 2,500
  • Town of Fenelon Falls, population 1,800
  • Town of Bobcaygeon, population 1,000



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Map of the Trent-Severn Waterway

trent severn canal map


History of the Trent-Severn Canal

The natural waterways of the Trent-Severn Waterway system were utilized for millennia by the aboriginal peoples of the area and many important aboriginal sites are located along the route that testifies to its significance. With the coming of the fur traders and voyageurs the waterway became one of the prime transportation routes into the hinterlands of Upper Canada.

In 1615 the famous explorer Samuel Champlain was the first European to travel down the waterway when he led a band of Huron allies on an attack on the Iroquois inhabiting the shores of Lake Ontario.

As later settlers and traders began moving into the region the importance of developing the route for commerce was quickly perceived. In its natural state a number of portages existed that would have to be overcome if the route was to become commercially viable. Construction of the system began in 1833 with the building of a lock near the community of Bobcaygeon but it would be 87 years before the dream of the waterway would be fully realized and a boat could make the complete journey from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron with the building of two “temporary” marine railways at Big Chute and Swift Rapids. Finally, in 1920, for the first time starting at the City of Trenton a boat could travel from Lake Ontario and enter Lake Huron via Georgian Bay at the Town of Port Severn.

During its construction the waterway did play an important part in the economic development of the region especially with respect to the logging industry. It was however hopelessly outdated in this respect by the time of its completion due the advent of railways and the fact that it could only accommodate smaller vessels, not the bigger “lakers” that had been developed in the meantime. It was made completely obsolete for commercial purposes by the completion of the Welland Canal in 1932, where it did find its niche however was in its use for recreational purposes, a use that continues to be its primary functional purpose today.

Trent Severn Waterway fast facts:

  • Total length: 386 kilometres (210 miles0
  • Number of locks – 45, including 36 conventional, 2 flight locks and 1 marine railway
  • Open for navigation from May to October
  • Man made channels – 32 kilometres (20 miles)
  • Number of swing bridges – 39
  • Water Depth (under normal conditions)– Locks 1- 19 2.4 metres (8 feet) Locks 20 – 45 1.8 metres (6 feet)
  • Lowest Bridge Clearance – 6.7 metres (22 feet)
  • Smallest lock # 45 at Port Severn – 25.5 metres (84 feet) long by 7 metres (23 feet) wide.
  • Highest Navigatable point – 256.3 metres (841 feet) above sea level at Balsam Lake
  • Travel time (one way) 5 – 7 days

big chute marine railway Big Chute Marine Railway (lock #44)

One of the most unique characteristics on the waterway this “temporary” structure was completed in 1917 and is the only marine railway still in existence in North America.

The structure carries boats in a cradle across land to bypass the Little Chute rapids.

Big Chute Fast Facts:
  • Maximum vessel length: 30.5 metres (99.2 feet)
  • Maximum vessel width – 7.3 metres (24 feet)
  • Maximum vessel weight 90 metric tonnes (99 tons)

Please note that travelers with vessels more than 68 metric tonnes (75 tons) must inform the Trent-Severn Waterway headquarters 48 hours in advance of the trip.


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Getting to the Trent Severn Waterway:

The Trent Severn Canal bisects across a large swath of Southern Ontario and parts of it can be found in different regions of the province. For this reason I can’t really give you definitive directions as an end destination must be specified. Therefore, to get to the Trent Canal Waterway just find your desired destination within the pages of this site and a detailed list of directions and/or mode of transportation will be included.


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peterborough-lift-lock At one time steamboats traversed up and down the waterway but this has long since given way to usage by the myriad of private boats of all shapes and sizes that now ply the waters. Today the shorelines along the many bodies of water that make of the complete Trent-Severn Waterway System are dotted with innumerable cottages and resorts.

There is however still one passenger steamboat in service: The Kawartha Voyageur that cruises along both the Trent-Severn Waterway System and The Rideau Canal route. Visit www.ontariowaterwaycruises.com for more information.

For those not interested in a journey on this scheduled cruise liner there are plenty of private operators that will rent out houseboats, one of the most popular activities on the waterway. These firms can be found in numerous locations along the waterway, are relatively inexpensive and no boating license is required. This option will provide an experience that any participant will remember forever and this activity is indeed so popular that I will include a page just dedicated to it in the near future.

For those not interested in a houseboat adventure there is still plenty to see and do along the canal system. Some of the more popular activities include:
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Canoeing
  • Waterskiing
  • Sightseeing

Some of the more interesting attractions along the waterway worthy of a visit include:
  • Boyd Heritage Museum in Bobcaygeon
  • Peterborough Lift Lock in Peterborough, the highest hydraulic boat lifts in the world
  • Petroglyphs Provincial Park in the Curve Lake Aboriginal Reserve
  • Kawartha Settlers Village in Bobcaygeon
  • The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough
  • Big Chute Marine Railway in Big Chute
  • Whetung Ojibwa Centre in the Curve Lake Aboriginal Reserve
  • Warsaw Caves Conservation Area in Warsaw
  • Lang Pioneer Village in Keene
  • Peterborough Museum and Archives in Peterborough
  • Stephen Leacock Museum in Orillia
  • Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge in Campbellford
  • Orillia Museum of Art and History in Orillia
  • Maryboro Lodge Museum in Fenelon Falls
  • Horseless Carriage Museum in Fenelon Falls



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trent severn houseboats The Trent-Severn Waterway is one of the most popular destinations in the province for both inhabitants and visitors alike. It’s many interconnected rivers and lakes are some of the premier recreational areas the province has to offer.

Renting a houseboat for a weeklong journey through the rugged landscape is a trip that every provincial inhabitant aspires to try at least once
and many make this an annual sojourn and is how they spend their summer vacations.

The system itself has some unique features that are a marvel to see, if you are in the area I would highly recommend visiting:
  • Big Chute Marine Railway
  • Peterborough Lift Lock
  • Kirkfield Lift Lock

The waterway is not limited to these unique sights though as just traveling to some of the various bodies of water within the system makes for a nice journey in itself. First time visitors to Ontario Canada will probably want to visit some of the more well known attractions but for repeat visitors I would highly recommend a trip to some part of the Trent-Severn Waterway being included on your itinerary including, if possible, an entire planned houseboat journey as it surely will be a memorable experience.

For more information of the waterway and its attractions and activities visit: www.trentsevern.com or www.thewaterway.ca.


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