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Progress Under Board of Works, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

On the union of the provinces in 1841, the canal system was placed under a Board of Works, which was the fore runner of the later federal Department of Public Works. The chairman of this Board recommended the abandonment of the original trans-Ontario scheme on the ground that the route was too shallow and circuitous and that the cost, estimated at $3,000,000. was prohibitive. He further recommended that the locks already started be finished and that timber slides be prepared.

The wooden lock and dam at Lindsay were completed in 1844. The lock was 131 1-2 feet long by 32 1-2 feet wide, with an 8-foot lift. The dam was a truss frame structure, 280 feet long and 9 feet high, on a 30-foot base. The lock at last went out of repair and when, in 1357, the railway from Port Hope reached Lindsay, its renewal was deemed unnecessary. In 1859, a 54-foot slide was built through the lock. The lower gates were removed and the lower part of the zipper gates formed the breast of the slide.
The channel of the Scugog River above and below Lindsay also claimed attention. In the lower river three cuts were made to eliminate some of the more intolerable meanderings of the stream. In the upper river the outstanding impediment was a region of shifting bogs which tended to bedevil the channel at the foot of Scugog Lake. No remedy for this was found.

At Bobcaygeon, a general reconstruction was accomplished in 1857. The wooden lock was replaced by one of cut stone masonry, 134 feet by 33 feet, with a 7 1-4 foot lift. The gates were of solid timber and rested on wooden sills. This lock is being rebuilt in concrete in the current year, 1921. A canal above the lock, 973 feet long, was faced and floored with timber and plank, and guard piers, 130 feet long, were placed below the lock.

In 1858, two slides were built and a basin and two mill races excavated. One slide was for squared timber and the other, in the "Little Bob" channel, for sawlogs. A dam of truss and crib work was likewise built across the channel, 1262 feet in length, and 6 feet in height.

Development of Lumbering

For many years the aim of the government was less to foster navigation than to facilitate the passage of timber down the Trent System. In the forties the southern portion of the Trent watershed was the canter of lumbering activities. In 1844-45 three great slides were built at Healey's Falls, Middle Falls, and Chisholm's Rapids, on the section between Rice Lake and Trenton. The cost of maintenance of these slides was greater than the revenue derived from them and in 1855 they were turned over to a "Trent Slide Committee." This Committee was granted a toll of one dollar on each crib floated, and undertook in return to keep the slides in order.

As the forests to the south became depleted, the lumbermen kept moving north. In the early sixties, a rush was made to secure the great pine areas in the northern half of the Trent watershed and by 1865 about 1000 square miles had been alienated with practically no return to the public treasury.

As part of this development, authority was granted on February 15, 1860, to Alexander Dennistoun to form a company for the purpose of building a timber slide at Fenelon Falls. This slide was 326 feet long and 33 feet wide.

For the next twelve years, violent quarrelling over the blocking of the Fenelon River channel with timber prevailed between the lumbermen and the steamboat owners of the district. Both parties petitioned the government in 1872 to divide the river into two channels. In 1873, this was done by building two piers in mid-stream and stretching between them a 3090-foot single chain boom, anchored at intervals of 300 feet by heavy anchor stones and chain cables. At the same time the government assumed control of the timber slide.

Revival of Canal Project

The general supervision of the Trent System was under the Board of Works prior to 1867, under the federal Department of Public Works from Confederation till about 1881, and since 1881 under the federal Department of Railways and Canals.

In 1881, with the Canadian Pacific Railway planned across the northwest and the prospect of new grain traffic by water from Port Arthur holding the prophetic imagination, the old trans-provincial Trent canal scheme was again brought up. It was pointed, out on the one hand, that while the distance from Kingston to the Straits of Mackinaw by way of the Great Lakes and the Welland Canal was 785 miles, the distance via the Trent Canal would be only 567 miles, a saving of 218 miles. It was argued on the other hand that the shallow channel and tiny locks would force transhipping of cargoes, unnecessary on the other route; that the canal route from Trenton to Georgian Bay was 235 miles in length while the direct distance between the two was only 112 miles; and that the incessant lockages over the Trent system would make it actually slower and more vexatious than the Great Lakes route. The government was not thoroughly convinced that the project was sound. It went ahead, but went very half heartedly, and took no steps towards large money appropriations for another fifteen years.

One major undertaking in this county may be noted. On October 14, 1882, a contract was made with A. P. McDonald and Company to build two stone locks and a canal at Fenelon Falls. The locks had each approximately a fourteen-foot lift, designed to over come a fall of 24.84 feet at Fenelon Falls and a fall of 3.71 feet at Balsam Rapids, just above Cameron Lake. A dam 304 feet long and seven feet high was also built. * Much trouble was experienced in un-watering the works but the locks were at last completed in 1886. It was then discovered that one-third of a mile of canal between them and Cameron Lake had been only partially dredged. Moreover the stationary railway bridge prevented boats from passing north. It was not until May 19, 1894, that a swing bridge was installed and the steamer "Water Witch" pushed through with exultant shrieks. Balsam Lake was still inaccessible to most boats, however, for the wooden lock built at Rosedale by Wm. Whiteside for the Ontario government in 1873 was only 100 feet in length.

Meanwhile the lock and dam at Lindsay has been rebuilt by Thomas Walters in 1870 and again in 1885, and a dry dock built at Bobcaygeon in 1889. In 1890-91, a wharf was built at the foot of Peel Street, in the heart of Lindsay, at a cost of $285. Steamers had previously docked at the foot of Caroline Street, far down the river, but a turning basin was now dredged out in front of the new wharf and a road cut down the hill at the foot of Peel Street. The Scugog had also been treated to a couple of extensive cuttings by which to eliminate the most circuitous of its meanderings.

In 1896, the Dominion Government at last abandoned its hesitation and launched out on the Trent Canal project in real earnest. In 1897, the link from Balsam Lake to Lake Simcoe was pushed forward. This work was divided into three sections. The first section, running 5 1-2 miles west from Balsam Lake, was undertaken by Andrew Onderdonk, of Chicago. The chief task on this section was a rock cutting, a mile in length, running west from the shore of West Bay, Balsam Lake. This cutting was followed by a flooded reach at Mitchell's Lake. Sections 2 and 3, totaling 13 1-2 miles, were contracted for by Messrs. Larkin and Sangster and Messrs. Brown and Aylmer respectively. The work here included a 48 1-2 foot hydraulic lift lock at Kirkfield, 5 concrete locks, 3 dams, 3 swing bridges, and much dredging and excavation. For the right-of-way from Kirkfield to Lake Simcoe, 2000 acres of land were bought at an average price of $10 the acre. The whole of the Balsam-Simcoe section was completed by 1906 except the lift lock, which had been found defective. After extensive repairs had been made, the lock was opened with much ceremony on July 6, 1907, by the Hon. Rodolphe Lemieux, Postmaster-General, and the Hon. M. J. Butler, Minister of Railways and Canals. The cost of the lift lock, exclusive of concrete and breast walls, was $298,000.

Navigation was now open from Orillia to Healey's Falls, except for the old wooden lock at Rosedale. A contract for a concrete lock and short canal here was let on Feb. 24, 1908, to the Raldolph McDonald Co., Ltd. A channel 4600 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 7 feet deep had to be drilled and blasted out in rock shoals in the Balsam River. A further piece of canal was dug out through a swamp directly into Cameron Lake, instead of following the river all the way. Work at Rosedale was practically completed in 1911.

Meanwhile two side issues had received some slight attention. In October 1905, the Dominion government appropriated $6000 to pay E. J. Walsh, C. a, of Ottawa, to make a survey of the Gull River waters and to report on the feasibility of giving Minden connection by locks and canals with the main Kawartha Lake system. The project, which had really been first brought forward in 1861, was considered quite practicable but was turned down by Laurier when advocated by Sam Hughes, M.P. Another lateral canal, from Newmarket to Lake Simcoe, was begun in 1906 but never came to anything.

In 1909, the lock and dam at Lindsay were rebuilt under the contractorship of Mr. J. Ritchie.

Fierce controversies raged for many years over the choice of a lower outlet for the canal. Port Hope, Cobourg, and Trenton all shouted their rights and advantages in the matter. In 1908, the government finally decided to adopt the Trent River route. This section, from Trenton to Rice Lake, was opened for traffic on June 3, 1918.

The final link, which will give through passage from Georgian Bay to the Bay of Quinte is not yet finished. The "Severn Section" involves 6 locks, 16 dams, and 8 bridges. Through the use of two marine railways, at Swift Rapids and Big Chute respectively, launches up to 35 feet in length may pass from Lake Couchiching to Port Severn, on Georgian Bay, but this does not constitute open traffic on the Canal.

The total expenditure on the Trent Canal up to March 31, 1919, was $19,760,220.22, a sum which would have seemed unbelievable forty years ago.

Kawartha Navigation

Victoria County


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