DESTINATION: Trent-Severn – A Very ‘Canadian’ Way Of Boating
Published: Friday, June 12, 2020
By: Kim Goggins
From sun-kissed waves as far as the eye can see, to forested shorelines punctuated by Canadian Shield rock, there is nothing quite like the Canadiana feeling you get when boating the Trent-Severn Waterway between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.
Boaters who make their way through this part of Central Ontario will also experience the final four locks of a 240-mile, world-class system, as they travel through the historic channel into the Great Lakes.
The waterway that was once solely used for the purpose of moving wares by Indigenous Peoples and first settlers became more widely used in 1920, after almost a century of construction. By this time, it linked Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay with 45 locks, about 150 dams, and roughly 31 miles (50 km) of man-made canals. One hundred years later, it continues on as a world-famous recreational boating channel.
Indigenous Fishing Weirs
For thousands of years, Indigenous people commanded the waterway, using it for travel but also for food along its shorelines and in the water. Coming from Lake Simcoe, boaters on their way to Georgian Bay can take the historic route from the Narrows—where Indigenous fishing weirs, more than 5,000 years old, lay as sharp stakes beneath the water at the point lakes Simcoe and Couchiching meet. These protected weirs have great historical significance.
As boaters slowly move past the weirs and into Lake Couchiching, it’s not long before the Port of Orillia appears in the distance and for many, this is a favourite stop, sometimes for days, on their journey.
The Port of Orillia
Every summer thousands of boaters from eastern Canada and the United States take advantage of the new, state-of-the-art Port of Orillia on their travels. 220 transient boat slips with 50- and 30-amp service allow pleasure crafts of all sizes to moor there between the second weekend of May and Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.
The modern facility offers washrooms with showers, laundry amenities, and a boater lounge for paying guests, while fuel, pump-out facilities, LCBO, 24-hour grocery store, and a marine repair shop are nearby.
“Last year, we had just under 2,700 visitors who stayed with us, on average, three nights,” reports Allan Lafontaine, Harbour Master at the Port of Orillia. “Visitors, last year, came from as close as local marinas and as far away as Germany. (American) boaters make up a large portion of our ‘looper’ visitors who tend to stay in Orillia for a longer period to enjoy the city along the Trent-Severn.”
City of Orillia: The ‘Jewel of the Trent-Severn’
Just steps away, the quaint City of Orillia offers more than 30 restaurants and bars, 150-plus shops, and highly anticipated events almost every weekend.
“Boating tourists can appreciate a day off the boat, exploring the small-town charm that downtown Orillia has to offer, and take part in some of the 20-plus events that take place each year,” says Samantha Yandt, events and marketing coordinator, Downtown Orillia Management Board. “Events like the street festivals and the Classic Car Show are free to attend.”
For those who want to escape their boat, but stay on the water, kayak and canoe rentals, as well as clean, sandy beaches for swimming and water sports are in abundance on Lake Couchiching.
“Orillia is known as the ‘Jewel of the Trent-Severn’ due to our position between the Trent and Severn waterways,” notes Lafontaine. “While Orillia has that small-town charm, it is a great city to provision, and have some fun before you head to the quiet parts of your journey, especially if you are heading to Georgian Bay.”
The Locks – 42 to 45
Between gorgeous Lake Couchiching and the awe-inspiring Georgian Bay, the trip is relaxed and meandering with breathtaking views of forested and rocky shorelines, especially during the height of the fall colours. Sparrow Lake also provides another opportunity for swimming and watersports before coming to the Swift Rapids lock. On this lake, Bayview Wildwood Resort is an excellent stop for a bite to eat or overnight stay.
“Between Orillia and Port Severn is the best part,” says Bob Kemp, a boater who has voyaged this part of the Trent-Severn Waterway for 25 years. “It’s the most beautiful part. Every lock is different and obviously the shorelines are different, but this section has the rock cuts and the trees. It’s gorgeous.”
Four locks, each with their own individuality and reasons to make them favourites, are highlighted on this part of the trip. Two of these locks, Swift Rapids and Big Chute, are particularly exceptional.
The isolated and heavily treed Swift Rapids lock (43) is the deepest single chambered lock in the entire system. From the bottom of the 47-foot lift, boaters have a unique perspective, looking up to see nothing but concrete and blue sky as they wait to continue their journey.
Next is the Big Chute marine railway (lock 44), a phenomenal feat of engineering and the only marine railway of its kind in North America. Using sets of sling systems to accommodate different sized boats, vessels are moved onto a flatbed that lifts them out of the water and brings them over land on a track to put them gently back into the water on the other side.
The final lock before Georgian Bay, Port Severn (45), is the smallest, but offers dining and shopping opportunities before heading into the vastness of Georgian Bay.
Here, the luxurious Rawley Resort, Spa & Marina and casual atmosphere of The Grill are each noted for their individual waterfront dining experiences. Along with other friendly restaurants in Port Severn, there is plenty of dining to enjoy.
One thing is for sure; when you boat the Trent-Severn Waterway, you can experience a plethora of adventures. With plenty of places to enjoy along the way, including full-serve marinas, resorts and restaurants, or lock-side camping and the ability to tie up overnight, there is something for everyone.
For more information, visit www.OntariosLakeCountry.com to plan your trip to North America’s greatest boating adventure!
This article first appeared in the Launch Issue (May/Jun) 2020 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.