The Big Chute

When I became interested in paddling a couple of years ago, I also developed an interest in the waterways, canals, and locks throughout Southern Ontario.

One of the largest and most well-known ‘water trails’ in this area is the Trent-Severn Waterway.

The Trent-Severn is 386 km (240 miles) long, connecting Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay.

When Helen and I were travelling the TransCanada Trail through Peterborough a couple of winters ago, I featured Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn here. It stands about 6 storeys high and is the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world.

Recently however, I had the opportunity to visit the most “unusual” lock on the waterway … Lock 44, known as the Big Chute, and the last lock before Georgian Bay.

The Big Chute located near the town of Coldwater.

The Big Chute can be best described as a “marine railway” and is reported to be the only one of its kind in North America.

It is a highly customized, open-ended and open-topped, “railway car” that lifts boats out of the water, over a steep hill, across a road, and then relaunches the boats on the other side.

It is a marvel to watch.

Boats enter the rail car in the water on their journey to the other side.
They sit in a ‘harness’ while being transported by rail to the other side.
A view of the back end as it goes past.
These 2 guys on the ground got yelled at by the operator on the top right of the rail car.
They had ignored the fenced-off area and were trying to put pennies on the track.
Dangerous and stupid in one simple move.
Boats then exit the rail car on the other side to continue on their journey.
There was a queue on both sides of the lock, as boats waited for their turn to go through.

A traditional lock system had been originally contemplated for this area but was abandoned in favour of the rail system.

This was the obstacle that needed to be resolved …

There was no simple way for a boat to get through this, so going around it was the only solution.

Travelling along the Trent-Severn, either in whole or in part, is a major activity of many recreational boaters during the summer months.

In fact, the seniors’ club I belong to organizes a week-long paddling trip on a portion of the Trent-Severn each fall. This trip however is way out of my league. The typical participant has DECADES of paddling experience, not to mention a passion for camping that I simply don’t understand.

If they ever plan a B&B version, I might reconsider.

In the meantime, Lock 21 in Peterborough and the Big Chute will remain on my wish list of things to do one day in a boat.

27 comments

  1. Too cool! I had no idea they moved boats through “locks” in this way but it would make perfect sense in some cases. I guess folks have to be patient at times when there’s lots of boats lined up to get through.

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    • On this particular day with the queue of boats, I guesstimated that the wait was around 30 minutes.

      I was talking to my sister yesterday and they once owned a boat and travelled a section of the Trent, including this particular lock. She found the whole experience of travelling the locks rather frustrating and thought the Big Chute was scary.

      We’re very different 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Joanne, I find I enjoy maps included in a post, especially when I have not been in the area. Just the name “Big Chute” sets up expectations. A really cool set up! You don’t have to listen to me lol, please don’t try paddling the Trent-Seven. I don’t want read your posts coming from heaven. xx

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    • I sometimes find I have to look up places in people’s blogs to get a sense of where they are, so I started included the occasional map in my posts. Glad to hear there are other’s like me who find it helpful!

      I’m not sure I would want to paddle the entire Trent. There is some “big water” in there and I would find very scary. However, some of these locks are fair game 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You know I’ve heard of the Big Chute but never knew exactly what it was. So cool to learn this through your blog, Joanne! Pennies on the tracks – haven’t done that in years. Why were these guys needing to do it on this short track when there are so many rails to be found elsewhere?

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    • The logic employed by some people is simply beyond me. Why anyone would think it’s a good idea to get up close with a moving rail car defies logic in my opinion … and it was moving at a clip that surprised me. These 2 were not the only ones who got yelled at for being on the wrong side of the barrier.

      I thought it was worth the 2 hour drive up to see the marine rail in action. We went on a Saturday and there was a lot of boat action looking for transport so we got to watch it go back and forth several times. I really
      wanted to be ON the rail car though!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The things I learn from your posts. What an incredible feat of engineering! Imagine experiencing that lock in a kayak. Sign me up for the B and B kayak hour of the Trent Severn!

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  5. Cool “lock”. I love the name of that canal, of course 😉 When I was a kid we used to spend every summer on a backwater off of the Rideau Canal. When they built the canal, they flooded a lot of area, so there are a series of interconnected lakes. The area we visited is about 25 km from Kingston, but we’d sometimes travel the canal a little more.

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    • Wow – that’s so cool. The Rideau is also a very popular ‘water trail’ and it’s also on my must-do list someday.

      I’ll have to live to 200 to do everything on my list as it stands today 😉

      Liked by 2 people

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