French explorer Samuel de Champlain saw potential in the beautiful lakes and rivers of southern Ontario. But in the early 1600s, the waters between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay didn't interconnect. Carrying canoes from one waterway to another over rocky and forested terrain was a nightmare.
It took about 300 years to turn Champlain's nightmare into a dream come true. Today, the Trent-Severn Waterway connects these two giant bodies of water through a series of 44 locks and canals that stretches about 250 miles. Originally designed to transport freight, timber and commercial goods, the Waterway now is used mainly by all types of recreational boats.
The Kawartha Lakes region, about 100 miles northeast of Toronto, is at the heart of the Trent-Severn Waterway. The area consists of about a dozen lakes, some connected by locks, others accessible through natural channels. Three of the Kawarthas' main lakes -- Pigeon, Buckhorn and Chemong -- can be navigated without going through a lock. And Big and Little Bald lakes are accessible from northern Pigeon Lake.
Boaters: A Lot Of Options
Boating the Kawartha Lakes provides a glimpse of what explorers such as Champlain experienced. There are plenty of pristine bays and forested islands, along with the bustle of the towns and lakeside cottages.
There are lots of options for boaters in the Kawarthas. Visitors can dock at campsites or lakeside cottages. Bigger boats and rented houseboats can anchor out on the water. Just leave on the anchor light so other boaters will spot you. Staying on the water at night offers quiet and colorful sunsets, sunrises and early morning fishing.
Stock up on food, extra gas and other needs before sailing. Although supplies are available in the towns and some marinas, the Kawartha Lakes region is big. It could take several hours to get to port, tie up and go shopping.
Most tackle shops and the gatehouses at the locks have navigational maps, which show the channel markers and locks. If you have a portable depth finder, bring it. In addition to finding fish, it also alerts boaters to shallow, rocky waters outside the markers. It could save a prop.
Going through the locks is an interesting experience. It's a strange sensation feeling the boat raised or lowered until it reaches the proper water level to move on. Lines are loosely looped around a hose-type rod so they move up-and-down with the boat. Remember -- the entire boat moves during the water level change so don't tie lines to railings. The lock wardens will help if needed.
There are about a thousand miles of shoreline and about 160 islands to explore. Walleye, smallmouth bass, muskellunge and panfish all swim these waters. An Ontario fishing license is required and can be purchased at local tackle shops.
The oldest lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway is in Bobcaygeon (pronounced BOB-CAGE-UN), completed in 1835. It was once a logging town, but now instead of logs, hundreds of vessels from dinghies to cabin cruisers go through this lock during the summer months.
Big Island: Perfect For Fishing
Sail through Gannon's Narrows, where Buckhorn Lake meets up with Pigeon Lake. Big Island, also called Boyd Island, at the northern edge of Pigeon Lake has lots of sheltered coves and drop-offs, just perfect for fishing and swimming.
Chemong Lake is the biggest body of water in the Kawartha Lakes. Its many grassy and rocky stretches near the Causeway Bridge hold walleye (sometimes called pickerel here) and smallmouth bass. Muskies also hang out here. Buckhorn Lake isn't as deep as the others, averaging about 10 feet, and has more weeds.
For shore leave, Bobcaygeon offers galleries, a beach area, gift shops and restaurants. Buckhorn has original grinding stones from the gristmills. The town also has lots of deer antlers on display, thus the town's name.
The Curve Lake Indian Reserve is between Buckhorn and Chemong lakes, and reachable only by boat. Some 800 Curve Lake Indians live on the reserve and continue to keep the Ojibwa language and culture alive. They hold a yearly regatta and powwow.
Other towns of interest include Ennismore on Chemong Lake. It hosts a Shamrock Festival, which is a type of sports fair. Burleigh Falls features Petroglyphs Provincial Park, where Algonquin Indians carved images on rocks almost a 1,000 years ago. Peterborough is the site of the world's highest hydraulic lift lock, which raises and lowers boats 65 feet.
Just boat on over and see it all.
For More Information
For more information on the Trent-Severn Waterway, contact Superintendent, Trent-Severn Waterway, P.O. Box 567, Peterborough, Ont. K9J 6Z6, 1-800-663-2628, http://parkscanada.pch.gc.ca/trent..
Kawartha Lakes Visitors Info and Associated Chambers of Commerce, 1-877-53LAKES, http://www.kawarthalakes.net.
Bobcaygeon Chamber of Commerce, 21 Canal St., Bobcaygeon, Ont. K0M 1A0, 705-738-2202, 1-800-318-6173, http://www.bobcaygeon.org.
Buckhorn District of Tourist Association, Box 55, Buckhorn Ont., K0L 1J0, 705-657-3288, http://www.buckhorncanada.org.
Ontario Tourism -- information packet on province will include a listing of boat launches and houseboat rental agencies -- call 1-800-ONTARIO/668-2746.