The Ainsworths move on to Canada and two very fa­mil­iar-soud­ing canals – but, of course, their Sev­ern and Trent are very dif­fer­ent to ours


At the north­ern end of Amer­ica’s Great Loop, a 4,000-mile route through the wa­ter­ways of the eastern United States and Canada, there’s a choice. We de­cided that, in­stead of fol­low­ing the Erie Canal all the way to Buf­falo and into Lake Erie, we would see what Canada had to of­fer with the Trent- Sev­ern Wa­ter­way, Ge­or­gian Bay and the North Chan­nel which leads into Lake Michi­gan. This meant leav­ing the Erie Canal at Three Rivers and cross­ing Lake On­tario from Oswego.

We landed in Canada at Priny­ers Cove in Prince Ed­ward County, On­tario, and spent a few days cruis­ing to Tren­ton, where the wa­ter­way starts.

We had won­dered about the cus­toms for­mal­i­ties, since Priny­ers Cove was a ham­let con­sist­ing of a small ma­rina and not much else. But it turned out to be sim­ple. Ian just had to phone the Cana­dian Cus­toms with de­tails of the boat, how long we were go­ing to be in Canada, our pass­port num­bers, and how much al­co­hol we had on board. We were al­lowed to im­port two bot­tles of wine, or 12 cans of beer each. On­tario is quite strict about al­co­hol, which can be pur­chased only at Beer Stores or LCBOs – out­lets of the Liquor Con­trol Board of On­tario, for­bid­ding, win­dow­less places that ap­pear not to in­vite cus­tom.

At Tren­ton, we had our first meal out in Canada and no­ticed that many peo­ple were con­sum­ing a murky brown liq­uid gar­nished with sticks of cel­ery. The drinks were Bloody Cae­sars, a cock­tail in­vented in 1969 by a Cana­dian chef called Wal­ter Schell. A Bloody Caesar con­sists of vodka, clam­ato (tomato juice with clams), Worces­ter­shire sauce, Tabasco sauce, pep­per­oni and cel­ery. Ap­par­ently, 350 mil­lion are con­sumed each year in Canada. Oddly, the drink is al­most un­known any­where else.

The next day, we started the 240-mile pas­sage through the Trent-Sev­ern Wa­ter­way, a series of canals, rivers and lakes which link Tren­ton in the south­east with Port Sev­ern in the north­west.

The Trent-Sev­ern has a quite dif­fer­ent feel from the Erie Canal. It has a dif­fer­ent his­tory too – whereas the Erie Canal was built for a spe­cific pur­pose, to im­prove trade for Amer­ica’s Mid-West, the Trent-Sev­ern was grad­u­ally de­vel­oped over 90 years and not fi­nally com­pleted un­til 1920, when its po­ten­tial for pro­vid­ing hydro-elec­tric power for On­tario was re­alised. It’s also a great and well-used recre­ational re­source and hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, pro­moted and mar­keted by Parks Canada.

The wa­ter­way reaches 870ft above sea-level, so there are quite a few locks to ne­go­ti­ate. They are all man­u­ally op­er­ated, but not, as in Eng­land, by the boaters. Each is staffed by two or three peo­ple, many of them stu­dents do­ing a sum­mer va­ca­tion job, but all wel­com­ing and help­ful. The lock sur­round­ings are well kept, with lit­tle gar­dens and pic­nic ar­eas, and fa­cil­i­ties for boaters to tie up overnight on the lock walls. The lock­keep­ers phone ahead to the next lock to let them know boats are on their way, so locks are usu­ally ready when you ar­rive.

Af­ter leav­ing Tren­ton, the wa­ter­way starts as a wide river, but nar­rows into a chan­nel as it rises steeply through a series of six locks only about a mile apart, so our first morn­ing was quite

‘Through­out the wa­ter­way, the wa­ter was crys­tal clear, thanks to Parks Canada’s strict rules about what can be dis­charged from boats’

busy. At the first lock we had to tie up and pay for our sea­sonal one-way per­mit and for the lock-keeper to give us tips and in­for­ma­tion on good places to stay – like which lock walls got busy, which had power and so forth.

Be­low Camp­bell­ford, there is a deep ravine in the lime­stone where the Trent River goes into the Ran­ney Falls. Be­low the falls, the canal takes a sharp left into locks 11 and 12 – these form a dou­ble lock, so that as soon as you emerge from lock 11, you are straight into lock 12 with­out any in­ter­ven­ing ‘pound’. Both the locks are deep, so that from the top there is a dra­matic view of the sur­round­ing coun­try.

The next day we in­tended to an­chor some­where quiet and peace­ful, but it had be­come so hot (de­scribed as a ‘heat event’ on the lo­cal weather fore­casts) that we de­cided to go all the way to Hast­ings. This meant we could stay in a ma­rina with a power sup­ply and have the boat’s air con­di­tioner on. On the way, we an­chored in Sey­mour Lake and swam from the boat. Through­out the wa­ter­way, the wa­ter was crys­tal clear, thanks to Parks Canada’s very strict rules about what can be dis­charged from boats.

The mu­nic­i­pal ma­rina at Hast­ings is next to Pisces Park, a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment that was opened only on 30 June 2016. The vi­sion is ‘to cre­ate Pisces Park as a cul­tural space with a series of fish sculp­tures of the types of fish found in the Trent River’. The first of these, Pisces Pete, by Cana­dian artist Bill Lish­man, has al­ready been in­stalled.

From Hast­ings, the river wi­dens into Rice Lake, and half­way down the lake it takes a right into the Oton­abee River, which leads to Peter­bor­ough. The town is ac­tu­ally on Lit­tle Lake, a bulge in the river.

At Peter­bor­ough we had a chal­leng­ing time dock­ing. Just as we ar­rived, the winds sud­denly be­came very strong. The ma­rina staff asked us to go to a fin­ger dock, which in­volved Ca­rina mak­ing a sharp 90° turn to star­board.

Ca­rina does not do 90° turns. She has a sin­gle screw en­gine and no bow thrusters. She stops at 45° and won’t do what she’s told in re­verse, ei­ther. In strong winds, she goes into toy-throw­ing mode.

The young ma­rina staff were po­lite and en­cour­ag­ing, but af­ter sev­eral fu­tile at­tempts at dock­ing, with other boat own­ers look­ing on with trep­i­da­tion, they gave in and let us go on the end of a T-dock, which in­volved only driv­ing up to some­where near enough for moor­ing ropes to be thrown to the wait­ing staff.

Morale was re­stored later when we had drinks with some other ‘Loop­ers’. They had a Marine Trader just like Ca­rina and said they wouldn’t have even at­tempted try­ing to put the boat into a fin­ger dock. In­stead, rather than wait­ing for ma­rina staff to tell them where to dock, they tell the ma­rina staff where they want to go. A les­son learned.

Peter­bor­ough is fa­mous for its Lift Lock, still re­garded as an en­gi­neer­ing marvel. Two ad­ja­cent hold­ing tanks si­mul­ta­ne­ously move in op­po­site di­rec­tions, to take boats up and down the lock. No elec­tric power is used and the lock works sim­ply by the weight of wa­ter in the up­per tank be­ing greater than that of the lower one. The lift is 65ft – at the time it was built, in 1904, it was the largest struc­ture in the world to be built from un­re­in­forced con­crete. It is very quick, too – the as­cent took only a cou­ple of min­utes.

The Kawartha Lakes area is re­put­edly the most beau­ti­ful part of the wa­ter­way. Over the next few days we trav­elled through sparkling lakes and rivers, stop­ping at Lake­field, Buck­horn Lake and then Fenelon Falls.

Some­thing that had puz­zled us since we ar­rived in Canada was the fre­quent ref­er­ence to ‘loonies’. We imag­ined that they were some sort of to­ken, as there would be no­tices say­ing ‘loonies only’ in places like laun­dro­mats. At Fenelon Falls Laun­dro­mat, a lady en­light­ened us. Loonies turned out to be dol­lar coins, with the Queen on the front and a loon, an aquatic div­ing bird, on the back.

“Of course, we have toonies too,” she told us. “The two-dol­lar coin. They have a bear on the back, so we say they have the Queen on the front, with a bear be­hind.”

We had also been won­der­ing what peameal, which seems to fea­ture on all break­fast menus in Canada, might be. I had had a best-for­got­ten ex­pe­ri­ence with grits in Charleston, and sus­pected that peameal might be some­thing sim­i­lar. But we went out for break­fast in Fenelon Falls, and dis­cov­ered that it was lean Cana­dian ba­con, thick-cut like gam­mon, and de­li­cious.

The stretch of the Trent Canal be­yond Mitchell Lake con­tained the Kirk­field Lift Lock, which is the high­est point on the wa­ter­way. The lock was built to the same de­sign as the Peter­bor­ough Lift Lock, but the height is only 49ft. It was still quite awe-in­spir­ing though, to see the land, and our west­ward jour­ney, stretch­ing away from us as we waited for the lock to de­scend.

The next big thing was Lake Sim­coe, a few miles fur­ther down the straight stretch of the Trent Canal. Al­though not as large as Lake On­tario, Sim­coe is sub­ject to capri­cious weather pat­terns and comes with a se­ri­ous health warn­ing. So we had to wait for a suit­able weather win­dow to present it­self.

By now, it was swel­ter­ing. Strong winds and thun­der­storms were fore­cast and we tied up at Lock 39 to sit it out be­cause

‘Two ad­ja­cent hold­ing tanks si­mul­ta­ne­ously move in op­po­site di­rec­tions to take boats up and down the lock. No elec­tric power is used’

cross­ing Lake Sim­coe in those con­di­tions wasn’t an op­tion. A hot, sticky night passed rather un­com­fort­ably. The next day the winds and heat per­sisted but the thun­der­storms didn’t ma­te­ri­alise un­til the mid­dle of the night, when we woke to the sound of heavy rain and a wel­come drop in tem­per­a­ture.

Al­though it was grey and rain­ing, the winds weren’t too bad the next day, so we took a cal­cu­lated risk and set off. The area around Portage Lock was agri­cul­tural and the scene not un­like many wet morn­ings on English canals.

It was a good move. The 15-mile cross­ing of Lake Sim­coe took only two hours with the wind was be­hind us. We skirted around the north­ern shore, pass­ing through the Ather­ley Nar­rows be­fore ty­ing up at Bridge­port Ma­rina, near Oril­lia, feel­ing rather guilty at the sight of the dock­hands get­ting drenched as they helped us moor.

Above Oril­lia, the wa­ter­way passes through Couch­ich­ing Lake and Spar­row Lake and on to Big Chute.

Big Chute is the most awe­some thing on the wa­ter­way. It is not tech­ni­cally a lock, but a rail­way which trans­ports boats up and down the rapids of the Sev­ern River. The boats sit on straps and are main­tained in a hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion by a cun­ning two-rail sys­tem which means that the Go­ing down Big Chute front of the boat is sup­ported and moves down in­de­pen­dently of the back. It was orig­i­nally con­structed as a tem­po­rary mea­sure, pend­ing a proper lock be­ing built, but con­struc­tion of the defini­tive lock was aban­doned be­cause of cost.

There were prom­i­nent no­tices about Parks Canada not be­ing re­spon­si­ble for dam­age to boats, which was a bit wor­ry­ing. But the ex­pe­ri­enced park staff told us ex­actly what to do and Ca­rina was soon set­tled in the cra­dle. There were some slightly alarm­ing noises as we de­scended, but all went well and we were sur­pris­ingly quickly out into the pool be­low the rapids.

Be­low Big Chute we en­tered Lit­tle Chute Chan­nel, a nar­row, rocky pass with a strong cur­rent. Ian had to call ahead on the VHF to ad­vise up­bound boats of our pres­ence. Al­though as a down­bound boat, we had right of way and, as the Wa­ter­way Guide put it, ‘Up­bound boats may not know this, or act ac­cord­ingly’. But there weren’t any up­bound boats and af­ter the chan­nel, the land­scape opened out into the lovely Glouces­ter Pool, with its many is­lands.

The wa­ter­way ends at Port Sev­ern, and sud­denly we were through the last lock and out into the vast ex­panse of Ge­or­gian Bay, which oc­cu­pies the north-eastern part of Lake Huron. The bay is al­most as big as Lake On­tario and con­tains 30,000 is­lands which festoon its north­ern shore. We had plenty more chal­lenges ahead.

One of the beau­ti­ful Kawartha Lakes

View from top of Camp­bell­field Locks

Gate­way to the Trent-Sev­ern

One of the un­wel­com­ing LCBOs

Be­low Camp­bell­field Locks

Ap­proach­ing Peter­bor­ough Lift Bridge

PiscesPete by sculp­tor Bill Lish­man

Route the Ainsworths took

The River at Lake­field

Hast­ings Pisces Park

The awe­some Big Chute

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