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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
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
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.
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
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
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.