Peterborough’s famous boat lift

I really enjoy visiting historic places, but I love it even more when these are a little unusual. So during a recent visit to Peterborough, Ontario, I absolutely had to make a stop at the famous boat lift along the Trent-Severn Canal.

A what lift? Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn Canal is the world’s tallest hydraulic lift lock. It operates on a balance principle: when the upper box fills with water, it becomes heavier and begins to descend, while the lower box rises. The boats can thus be lowered or raised to continue their journey on the canal.

Peterborough's lift locks
Going up and down on the Trent-Severn canal

The lift lock was built between 1896 and 1904. At the time, construction of the Trent-Severn Canal was in progress. The canal was to be used to link Georgian Bay in the north to Lake Ontario in the south and allow the transport of goods and resources of the region.

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In Peterborough and Kirkfield, however, the high water level necessitated the construction of expensive locks. The engineers then found a more economical solution, used in England: lift locks. These lift locks were cheaper, faster to build, and also required less water.

Peterborough's lift locks
Walking along these unique locks

Two lift locks were therefore built along the canal in Peterborough and in Kirkfield. The one in Peterborough is 20 metres high and is the tallest lock of its kind in the world.

When the Peterborough Lift Lock was completed, however, the Trent-Severn Canal was no longer needed. The construction of railways across the region had already made this waterway obsolete.

Today, the canal is mainly used for recreation purposes. The locks were designated as a national historic site and are today managed by Parks Canada. They are still active. We had the pleasure of seeing the large boxes go up and down during our passage. Rather impressive for a structure that is over 100 years old!

Peterborough's lift locks
Waiting for the boats to come down…

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