Sunday, August 21, 2011

A fresh-water “expedition” by sea kayak - a multi-week paddle that “locks”! And no sharks.

Burleigh Falls, Ontario - and one of the many lakes connected by the T-S Waterway.
For a good number of years now, we’ve thought about how cool it would be to paddle the Trent-Severn Waterway by sea kayak. Admittedly, it’s by no means an “epic” journey and the risk factors greatly pale in comparison to some of the impressive adventures being undertaken by some in the paddling community who stop by the blog now and again. There’s no exposed coastline, no storm swell, no need for tide tables, no grizzly bears scoping out the campsite, and nope, no evidence of the “predator of the deep”, the great white shark – as was snagged in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy last week! The Waterway trip has, however, great appeal.

The gates begin to open.
While visiting with family in Peterborough yesterday, we had the opportunity to drive up to Burleigh Falls, the location of Lock # 28, to do a short recce. The Parks Canada staff were most enthusiastic and a great source of information.

In the lock and ready to go - down!
The Trent-Severn is an impressive 386-kilometer (240 mile) route through central and southern Ontario, from Port Severn on Georgian Bay to the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. The numerous lakes, rivers, and canals are connected by the 44 locks (including two of the highest in the world), 2 “flight locks”, and one marine highway. The “lift” locks, located at Peterborough and Kirkfield are operated by monster hydraulics that raise and lower what are essentially steel “tubs”, weighing 1,500 tonnes of water! They would certainly make a 54-pound kayak feel like the proverbial “drop in a bucket”!

The Waterway is managed by Parks Canada.
The history of the Waterway is impressive. Construction began in 1833 and the project was completed eighty-seven years later in 1920. In a country as young as Canada – that’s a long-term project!

Ontario “cottage country”, through which the T-S transits, is very beautiful and incredibly peaceful – well, so long as the paddling is done before or after the “jet ski season”. Camping is available at most of the locks and the luxury of an occasional shower is available at marinas along the way. I think late spring or early fall would be perfect for a one, two, or three week trip, depending upon how much of the Waterway you wanted to do. It would, of course, be nice to paddle the whole route!

Deep in the lock - the sea kayak will be swallowed up!
As much as we’ve thought about it, it’s always been a difficult paddle trip to plan - logistically. For the last twenty years, we’ve lived in Western Canada. Getting the kayaks, paddling, and camping gear to the launch involves at least a week or so of driving – that’s a lot of time and energy expended, inside a car! There would also be the requirement to “ferry” the faithful Subaru "HMKTV" (High Mobility Kayak Transport Vehicle) to the end point. Despite these challenges, it seems like an excellent extended paddling trip to keep at the top of the kayaking “bucket” list for next year.

And on to the next lake.
Neither Joan nor I have ever spoken to anyone who has done this trip but I’m sure many have. If anyone out there has paddled all or part of the T-S Waterway (or is interested in doing so) it would be great to hear of your experience and any reflections you have on the route.

It looks like a great adventure - and hey, no sharks. :)



  1. Ready to go when you are! I'm thinking of doing the Rideau at the same time, after all, it's 'there'!

  2. Thanks Michael - now THAT'S just the kind of encouragement we need! You're so right, it's 'there' - reason enough to get serious. D.

  3. Planning is half the fun!!...well...maybe quarter the fun... but none the less time for some coffee and map ordering I think!

    This is one waterway Inever did get a chance to do; and wish I did.

  4. That's certainly my experience, Lee. I savour the thrill of planning and preparation as much as anything, every time. Coffee's brewing - cheers! D.

  5. I did not realize they allowed such small craft as a kayak to go through the locks? I know our 30 ft sailboat did it, but fortunately I was not on board. I agree, for you outdoors people it should be great fun with no sharks to worry about. Glad you are having some fun.

  6. I'm assuming they will, J. The PC staff didn't indicate otherwise. It's an "awkward" portage in most places if they don't. You'd certainly need to be cautious around the bigger vessels - who we never count on being aware of us. D.

  7. Hi Duncan and Joan, go for it. I look forward to following your adventure.
    David A

  8. Right on, David. We'll be taking tips from your blog and experiences to be sure. "Cheers" across the miles. D&J

  9. Yeah they will lock you guys through Duncan. No prob. Know many who have done it.

  10. Good news, thanks for that, Lee. D & J