Unprecedented investment to improve and rehabilitate infrastructure

It’s interesting to consider what the builders of the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site—who spent years of manual labour to create the massive lock system to facilitate transportation of lumber to supply the construction boom in lower Ontario—would think of their creation if they could see it today.

While still a crucial transportation link for the region, it’s hard to imagine they would have foreseen thousands of people in non-motorized boats enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the region.

But that’s the reality of the modern Trent-Severn Waterway. Its value has evolved to incorporate more than just transportation, but also recreational value that trickles down through the community in tourism dollars.

“The construction of the Trent-Severn Waterway would have started in about the 1830s, continued over a 100-year period,” says Jewel Cunningham, Executive Director for Ontario and Waterways Parks Canada. “When it was originally conceived, it was really intended to be a navigable waterway for the movement of wood as part of the timber industry of Ontario, which was very prevalent at that time in Algonquin Park.”

By the time it was fully constructed in the 1920s, recreational boating started to come on as a popular type of activity. “What was originally conceived as a commercial waterway quickly merged into the recreational waterway it is today,” says Cunningham.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is one of Canada’s most visited national historic sites, welcoming more than 1 million visitors every year. It is an integral piece of Canada’s history, and a crucial transportation and recreational link for the region. It also operates as an integrated system that mitigates flooding to ensure public safety.

Spanning nearly 400 kilometres and with more physical assets than any other, the Trent-Severn Waterway is Canada’s largest national historic site, with 44 locks, a marine railway and approximately 160 water control structures.

In 2016, Parks Canada announced an unprecedented $3-billion investment over five years to support infrastructure work to heritage, visitor, waterway and highway assets located within national historic sites, national parks and national marine conservation areas across Canada. Of this, close to $270 million was assigned to the restoration and improvement of the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site.

The intent behind the infrastructure work is multifaceted, says Cunningham. “Economic development is clearly one, as is the preservation of our heritage, as well as improvements to visitor facilities from a tourism standpoint.”

The funding will cover close to 80 individual projects. “Anything from dam rehabilitation, to bridge replacements, the re-stabilization of earth embankments, lock improvements, concrete work, gates, etc.” says Cunningham. “Really, all of the types of structures like this on the waterway are being worked on. We focused on assets that were in deteriorating condition or in poor or fair condition and the intent is really to improve and expand the life of all of the assets on the waterway. It is an extensive body of work that will probably be eight years by the time we’re done.”

The complexity of these types of projects is compounded by the fact they are submersed in water and are structures that operate 365 days a year. Says Cunningham, “At the end of this program we hope to see assets in good condition and with another 100-year life span.”