The Peterborough Lift Lock

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September 6th 2014
Published: September 6th 2014
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The first week of October is usually the best time for viewing Autumn leaves, so on Thanksgiving weekend last year Margo and I took a bus excursion from Ottawa to Peterborough, to see one of the world’s unique sites, the hydraulic Lift Locks, and enjoy a short cruise on the waterway. This is the story of what we saw and how this unusual device operates.

Located in the heart of Southern Ontario is the Trent-Severn Waterway, a series of rivers, canals and lakes that runs from Trenton on Lake Ontario’s north shore all the way to Georgian Bay, a distance of some 240 miles (386km). It has 45 locks, a short marine railway, 39 swing bridges and 160 dams and control devices. A National Historic Site of Canada, first explored by Champlain, it drains over 8,000 square miles (nearly 19,000 km²) of Ontario’s main “cottage country”. You can find a wealth of information at: or at this one: .

While not as famous as the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa, this canal has a unique feature no other one can boast: lock 21, in downtown Peterborough, is still the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock. It raises and lowers boats 65 feet (19.8m) without external power, using only the force of gravity acting on water and pistons, activated through a crossover valve controlled by an engineer. When it was built more than a century ago (1904), it was an engineering marvel, the world’s largest single structure of non-reinforced concrete (other great dams elsewhere came later). It, and the rest of the system of locks and controls on the Waterway are manned and activated throughout the summer by Parks Canada employees.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend excursion.

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