Cruising to a 100th Birthday Party

by Chris Bullen

We were fortunate enough to go for a 3-day cruise this year. With the Rascal being such a small boat we proceeded with a little hesitation but found it was uncalled for and was a successful event. The trip started Wednesday July 7. We met at the Port of Call Marina in Bolsover. The reason for the trip was to join in the celebrations for the lift locks 100th anniversary. This was set for Friday, and Saturday was a boat show on Little Lake in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

the launch ramp in Bolsover

(click images for larger versions)

The day started with heavy rain and the drive to Bolsover from Muskoka was very wet, the thought of, what do we do now was crossing our minds. We have 13 boats and 37 people in mostly open cockpit runabouts ready to embark on a 3 day trip. Heavy rain is not an option. Patrick, one of the event organizers of the trip is a minister, I say this because as we arrived at the launch ramp the rain had all gone. He has some good connections. The forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms later in the day but we had none of that. The launching of the vessels was carried out without incident and the owner of the marina was kind enough to donate the ramp fees to charity.

swing bridge

Once all the boats were fueled up, off we went. Our journey started on the Talbot River heading east to the Canal Lake. We pass by 2 swing bridges on Talbot river and then into Canal lake. We reached the historic road bridge (built in 1905) half way up Canal Lake. We looked back and there were no other boats. We called back (those cell phones do come in handy) and found one of the boats was not pumping water. After a few calls to Ed back in Muskoka and with the help of others on the trip, the water stated to flow and the rest of the boats were on there way.

road bridge
built in 1905

We started back up Canal Lake. Canal Lake was formed in 1896 with the flooding of Grass Creek. This lake is very shallow, boats with a 5ft draft will touch in spots. There is a buoyed channel for boats to travel its length, the lake is 4.8miles long and it’s a straight run. We traveled back into the Talbot River and to the Kirkfield lift lock. This is the first lock in our journey and is the sister to the Peterborough lift lock. The lock lifts us up 49ft. This is the highest point in the Trent Severn system, consequently the red and green buoys now switch sides. The lock is located less then 2 miles from the town of Kirkfield.

Kirkfield liftlock
Julie and I and Sam's Smile entering Peterborough liftlock

Kirkfield is on the farm land were Sir William Mackenzie was born in 1849. Mackenzie later became a lumber baron and was instrumental in founding the Canadian northern railway, known today as the Canadian National Railway. His house, built in 1888, is now the Sir William Mackenzie Inn.

After you leave the Lock, you’re in a canal cut out of the limestone. This narrow passage is only 10km/hr. For 6 miles you wind through Mitchell Lake and the gull river to another cut canal. The slow travel allows you to take in the scenery. As you get in to Balsam lake you can push the throttles forward and scoot south around Grand Island then veer north to Rosedale. Here you hit lock 35, it’s a small lock the drop is a short 4ft. There is a short stretch of canal then you’re in Cameron Lake. We crossed Cameron Lake behind some very large cruisers. Those of us who had had their share of 10km travel passed the cruiser and the spray was large and the clothes were damp but what fun. Cameron Lake was our resting spot for the night. We crossed the lake to Fenelon falls.

Friday morning rain

We left all the boats at the Fenelon falls marina and stayed over night at the Fenelon Falls Inn. After walking the downtown area and doing a little window shopping, it was time for the captain’s 3hr cruise. This was the longest of the trip. From here we took a bus back to Bolsover then drove our cars and trailers to Peterborough. The bus then took us back to Fenelon Falls. Fortunately on our return to the Inn we had a great dinner with all our friends and the bus trip was forgotten.

The cuisine at the Inn is East Indian. They served this fare as hot or as mild as you like. I had it mild and had a great dinner. Unfortunately the little Inn was a bit overwhelmed with all of us and a few mild eaters got something with a little kick. There was a little sweating from foreheads as the timid got a little spice in their life. There were also a few that like it hot but even they were surprised at the heat and were having a little trouble. This was great fun to watch for most of us and added an extra bit of entrainment to the meal.

The following morning we wiped down the seats from the rain over night and headed to the Fenelon Falls lock. This is a large lock with a big drop of 24’. From here you travel the Fenelon River to Sturgeon Lake. At this point in our trip we were riding in a 1937 Billie Johnston, the lake was rough and blowing to our starboard, we were getting soaked. The water was breaking on the side of the boat and buckets of water rained down on us. Thanks to the threat of rain we had umbrellas to save us from the morning bath. The Billie Johnston was zipping along at a mighty 10mph.

Julie taking a break from Sam's Smile

We finally made the turn east at Sturgeon point and headed with the wind behind us. The ride became much drier. Sturgeon Lake has no fish in it in spite of it's name and the reason is a mystery. At the End of Sturgeon lake is Bobcaygeon and Lock 32. With a drop of 6’ this was a quick lock and we were off down Big Bob Channel to Pigeon Lake. Traveling south through Pigeon Lake we got the first rays of sun on our trip. Pigeon Lake takes us to the Gannon Narrows and into Buckhorn Lake. Buckhorn takes us north east for 10 miles past the first nation reserve Fox Island and up to lock 31 in the town of Buckhorn.

Here we stopped for lunch on the patio, in the sun! This was a great spot to eat and watch the boater pass by. Lock 31 is an 11’ drop. Leaving this lock you pass east through lower Buckhorn Lake and Lovesick Lake, and nice ride with the shoreline close at hand. At the bottom of Lovesick Lake is Burleigh Falls and Lock 28? We did not miss any locks as this used to be a few locks and was changed to one big one in 1968. The lock here is a big 24’ drop.

This was the end of our trip for the day. Stoney Lake was the home of the Burleigh Island Lodge and the stop for the night. There are many places to stay on this lake and is a popular boating and cottage area. In rained again through the night and cocktails on the patio had us all huddled close under the umbrellas.

The morning brought us more rain. We picked up about 20 more boats at the first lock of the day. This lock located at the south end of clear lake is lock 27. The lock master was kind enough to start his day as we needed to get to the Peterborough lift lock by 1:00pm. With all the boats we squeezed in tight and were able to get all the boats through in 2 lifts. The locks from 27 to 22 the lock before Peterbourgh lock 21 are all hand operated and are as they were since they were built almost 100 years ago. These locks range for 16ft to 7 ft drop. The hardest part of the day was keeping the boats from hitting in the locks.

squeezing into the locks

All the locks on this day were close together and the speed was slow, this was the first day that the 1912 Mullins kept up with the group. We also had a dippy on this leg of the trip. Unfortunately plagued with engine troubles, it was towed to the end of the trip by Bill in his Coronado. This leg of the trip takes you through Lake Katchewanooka to Lakefield at lock 26 and on the Otonabee River to Peterborough.

1912 Mullins
dressed for a party

Lakefield is one of the first settlements in the area settled in the early as the 1800’s. The town is rich in history and still has many of its original homes. The next area we pass is Trent University located between locks 22 and 23.the university is located on the Otonabee River were the students take advantage of the location and practice rowing.

top of the Peterborough liftlock

We arrived in Peterborough in time and with a large audience. We had a little wait then some pictures of the moment we were down the lift. During our decent the T.V. show host Ted Rankin was filming the event for his show Power Boat Television. We all hope to catch that episode. Before you get to little lake in Peterborough there is one more lock. Ashburnham is also a hand operated lock, we dropped 12ft and our trip was finished on Little Lake. The following day we were all in a boat show to help with the weekend of celebration at the Lift locks.

lowered and
ready to leave

A great time was had by all on the trip. These trips are a great excuse to use your classic boat. The new people you meet with a common interest in boats are great fun to be with. All in all a very successful trip.