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The Big Chute Marine Railway

August 6, 2019

Trent Severn Waterway

Big Chute, Ontario, Canada

another boat going through

click to enlarge...

Up and Over
Setting Back In
The Big Chute
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A first marine railway was finished on this site in 1917 to overcome the 58 foot drop of The Big Chute. It was one of the final pieces to complete the Trent Severn Waterway to connect Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay that began in 1833 with the first lock at Bobcaygeon. The railway was a temporary solution to meet the demands of the Great War; conventional locks would have taken much longer to build. The conventional locks and dams they would have required were started in 1919 but abandoned in 1921 due to the post-war recession.

Instead, the original railway was almost completely rebuilt in 1923-24 to accommodate larger boats.

As boat traffic increased, a lock was again considered in the 1960s to solve the bottleneck the railway had become. But a lock would have allowed the Sea Lamprey access to the valuable Lake Simcoe fishery, so a larger railway was built instead, started in 1976 and opened in 1978. The 1923 railway is virtually next door to the to the 1923 version and a sign says it still serves as a trusty backup, but it’s hard to imagine that relic being cranked up.

One of the challenges of history is to visualize the circumstances that drove the construction of such an ambitious infrastructure project as the Trent Severn Waterway, even as railroads were making it obvious that any commercial success would be short lived.

The key to the Trent Severn are the abundant natural resources of Ontario and the industries they attracted. The forests of Ontario were logged extensively in the 1800s. The first dam at The Big Chute in the 1870s to raise water levels for timber drives – something like a cattle drive of the old U.S. West, but logs in water instead of cattle on range. The timber drives actually preferred sluices instead of locks, but the required dams led to power generation, which led to sawmills, which led to shipping lumber on boats instead of driving logs through water, yippy yi yo.

By the 1930s, the natural resources were creating a cottage industry to replace the dying logging industry. The recreational boat explosion in the 1950 and 60s solidified the new tourist industry, doing very well in the new century at least partly due to how well the Trent Severn Waterway is operated and maintained.

L.T. going through

L.T. Approachimg
Looks for all the world like you're approaching
an abandoned fish processing facility
The burgundy red is L.T.'s bimini. I'm not sure the boss meant that I could climb up to L.T.'s roof when he said I could stand anywhere.
This thing could hold 8 L.T.s.
Crossing the highway
I couldn't get anybody to wave!
Heading Down
The metal thing in the middle with yellow straps attached is raised to create a sling for L.T. It could hold two L.T.s side by side.
The two yellow squares on the side are smaller versions that could be raised to hold four small run abouts or PWCs.
Going Down, Looking Back
The car travels on two sets of tracks to keep L.T. level.
The whole thing took about 15 minutes.
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click to enlarge...