Trent-Severn final Section


When we left Port of Orillia Wednesday morning we were back on Lake Couchiching.  The lake is medium-sized in Central Ontario separated from Lake Simcoe by a narrow channel.  The Trent-Severn Waterway enters lake Simcoe by the Talbot River and exits this lake by the Severn River which empties into Georgian Bay.  Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot paid homage to the lake in the song Couchiching.

When we reached the end of Lake Couchiching we are at the beginning of the final stretch of the Trent Severn Waterway on the Severn River.  From Couchiching to Port Severn we will be traveling a part of the waterway whose course was finalized in 1913 and completed in 1920.  The low-lying farm land gives way to breath-taking granite rock formations.   Heavily forested and isolated, this section will prepare us for the North Channel.

The Severn River from the middle of the 19th century up until the completion of the canal in 1920 was used to transport logs to sawmills down the river.  The river services seasonal cottagers, as many of the properties are accessible only by boat.  There are some year-round residents that live on the Severn River.  According to “Governor Simcoe’s visit in 1793 the river at that time was known as the River Matchetache.

We are now in the manmade 2 miles long Trent Canal with a 6-mph speed limit, leading from the lake to Lock 42 Couchiching and the Severn River on a downhill run to port Severn.  This is our amazing view when the lock doors open.

IMG_6938This is the CNR railroad Swing Bridge it was closed due to heavy traffic.  It’s the one time you are allowed to blow your horn three times to alert them your waiting.  We caught up to the boat ” Bad Habit”  when we had to wait for the swing bridge to open.

For the next 4 miles the Severn River is only 200 feet wide in some places.  It took us past many summer cottages and the scenery was amazing.  After we left the Hamlet Swing Bridge the next 26 miles will be marked by numerous little lakes where if boats want to can leave the channel with ease and find a beautiful place to anchor.

We are now entering Sparrow lake 3 miles long 1.5 miles wide, the most southerly lake in the popular Muskoka tourist region.  The lake was named after William Sparrow, an Englishman, who fished and hunted the area in the 19th century.  He disappeared one summer giving rise to stories that he may have been murdered.  The lake is also famous as being the northern setting for the TV show Paradise Falls.  It is also home to Sparrow Lake Camp founded in 1912 the oldest children’s recreational camp operated by the United Church of Canada.  Situated on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield the lake is spotted with granite islands and surrounded by rocky, well treed shorelines.

This poor boater made a wrong turn out of the canal and is stuck on rocks.  The pontoon boat and jet sky are trying to pull him off the rocks and they did succeed.  This is a picture of how they tie fishing boats up along the canal.



Then we entered into McLean Bay at the north end of Sparrow Lake how beautiful.  The Severn River runs west from Sparrow Lake through red and gray granite walls cut by glaciers that left gorges and cliffs, fjord-like coves, side channels and fine anchorages.

We are now entering McDonald’s Cut a narrow rock lined cut that was excavated by hand in 1905.  Imagine excavating this cut by hand.

We navigated six miles of this remote scenery and passed under another CNR Railroad bridge before the waterway opens into the headwaters of Swift Rapids Power Dam and Lock 43 Swift Rapids.

Swift rapids lock is isolated and pristine with the only road to the lock is 11 miles long and is unpaved and very rough.  This is a tall lock with a 47 foot drop and is operated hydraulically.

IMG_7006IMG_7012fullsizeoutput_19f0Then the river continues for another six scenic miles that winds passed the summer community of Severn Falls and on to the Big Chute, the unique marine railway beyond Pretty Channel.

We are docked for the night at Big Chute Marina in the pool at Big Chute.  Brian the new marina owner helped us in and wanted to do anything he could to make our stay great.   We also have SeaQuest, Anchor Down, Tranquillity III, Satori, and The Lower Place are all on our dock.  When we were docking we saw “Overtime”  being carried across in the Big Chute.

I walked over to the Big Chute and watched Bad Habit lock through it was amazing and we will be locking through Thursday.  Big Chute Marine Railway at Lock 44 on the Trent-Severn Waterway is as unique as it is fascinating.  Imagine if you will a large cradle for your boat that allows you to portage over land without ever stepping off your boat.  It works on an inclined plane to carry boats in individual cradles over a height of about 60 feet.  It is the only marine railway of its kind in North America still in use.


This one of a kind piece of engineering provides access between the Severn river and Gloucester Pool.  In 1914 contracts were to have 3 locks built to connect the Severn River to Georgian Bay, Big chute and Swift Rapids.  The history of this unique marine railway stems from the manpower and resources shortages brought on by the First World War.  Lock 45 at Port Severn was almost completed when war broke out so it was quickly finished as a small “temporary” lock (It is still in use today).  The planned locks at Big Chute and Swift Raids had not been completed temporary marine railways were built instead.  The original Big chute Marine Railway was completed in 1917 and could only carry boats up to 35 feet.  In 1923 the original railway was replaced with the second carriage carrying boats up to 60 feet and was in service until 2003.  Although the old carriage is no longer used it remains on display.  Post war recessions, increased boat traffic along with more surveys and dashed plans finally led to a new enlarge railway being built-in 1976 and opened in 1978.


Bruce, Bev, Liz, Johnny, Kent, and I all had dinner at the restaurant in the marina.  It was nothing fancy but the food was very good. The rest of the loopers decided to eat on their boats this evening.

Thursday morning we moved from the marina to the blue line waiting to be locked on the Big Chute railcar along with the rest of the loopers.  They put SeaQuest and Tranquillity III together for the first lockage.




Our boat was floated onto the partially submerged Big Chute railway carriage that is 80 feet long and 26 feet wide behind Satori.  The boat rest on the bottom of the carriage and webbing slings are provided to support boats safely and prevent them from tipping.  Four 200 horsepower electric motors provide traction by cable.  The carriage is borne on a dual track which keeps it level the front and back wheels are on different tracks with the front of the carriage on the upper track.  When I watched it come across the road and seeing the distance to the bottom on the other side it looks like your going down in a roller coaster.   The carriage is kept horizontal due to the relative profile of the tracks.  Toward the end of travel the carriage assumes a slight “nose down” attitude as it submerges into the water and then you float off and it take about 30 minutes.   We will be on the boat the whole time we are pilot over the waterfall and then with great care placed back into the water again”what a rush”.

This is what it looks like as we motored away from the Big Chute in an area also called Gloucester Pool.

Below Big Chute past Horseshoe Island is Little Chute channel which is narrow, the walls rocky, unforgiving, and the currents swift.  This area was very scenic even if the weather is cool and cloudy.

Then the Severn River widens into a large lake Gloucester Pool with coves, inlets and sheltered anchorage.  The scenery is like something out of a book or on a post card.  We see so many cottages or homes on islands, corner lots and this is what it looks like.


Then we saw this house that looks like it was built on a rock.  The channel from Big Chute through Gloucester Pool and Little Lake to Port Severn has long been considered one of the most picturesque parts of the whole system.  I thought the whole area was amazing some more than others.


And we are again in the narrows the last of the narrow rocky channels.  We now have our last Lock 45 Port Severn which is hand-operated and the smallest lock in the system which controls the size of the traffic in the Trent-Severn.  We will not have another lock until we are on the Illinois River.  It’s sad to know we are now done with the Trent Severn what an amazing canal I wish I could do it all again.

When leaving the lock bound for Georgian Bay we had to be very careful of the current as we approached the high level Port Severn Road Bridge.  This area is very narrow with markers we could hardly navigate through.  The channel here was marked with more than 10 buoys in rapid succession and is called potato channel.  I called it watch out for the markers and a lot worse.



This is the western end of the Trent-Severn waterway and the eastern entrance to Georgian Bay one of the world’s finest cruising sounds.

Today our boat was lifted out of the water twice.  One was free at Big Chute and the other one Bay Port cost us some money.  Rocks and props don’t work together the rocks will always win.  As Kent said “if anything could go wrong it did go wrong all at once”.  We were lifted out, two props replaced, and back in the water thanks to the very helpful service and staff at Bay Port Marina.  Of course we had a down pour of rain as they were changing the props.  Its been a wild day dock tails will be greatly appreciated tonight.

We are finally docked at Midland Harbor located on Georgian Bay in Midland, Ontario for two to three days.  The town of Midland was founded in 1871 when the Midland Railway of Canada selects the sparsely populated community of Mundy’s Bay as the new terminus of the Midland railway.  The Midland railway ran from Port Hope to Beaverton and the line to the town was completed in 1879.  The village thrive based on Georgian Bay shipping and the lumber and grain trade and was incorporated in 1890.


In and around the center of Midland there are a number of murals most of which were painted by now deceased artist Fred Lenz.  The largest, depicting a meeting between a local native and Jesuit Missionary Jean de Brebeuf is on the silos overlooking the main harbor.

Today Friday July 14 is a very special Day for Johnny (Anchor Down) and Pam Short (Short Vacation) its their birthday.  So Happy Birthday to two very dear friends.  We will be with Johnny to help him celebrate in Midland Ontario.

Leave a Reply