This Week in History

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"Up and Down and Up and Down"

For the week of Monday July 9, 2007

On July 9, 1904, federal and provincial dignitaries aboard the steamer Stony Lake descended the Peterborough Lift Lock for the first time during the opening ceremonies. The first of its kind in North America and only fourth of its kind in the world, the Peterborough Lift Lock in Ontario was considered to be the most technically advanced lock system built at that time.

"The Lift-Lock at Peterborough [1913]"
"The Lift-Lock at Peterborough [1913]"
© Archives of Ontario / C7-3, 10419 / John Boyd Fonds
The Peterborough Lift Lock was actually a part of a much larger project - the construction of the Trent-Severn Waterway, connecting the town of Trenton on Lake Ontario to the Severn River on Georgian Bay. Throughout the 19th century, many attempts were made to build a canal between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. However, the federal and provincial governments had no interest in completing the waterway and interest seemed to lessen even more with the arrival of railways in the province.

The Lift Lock today - still the highest in the world
© Parks Canada / J. Butterill / H.06.76.08.10(44)
Still, many believed that canals were a necessary means of transportation. In 1896, construction began on the largest lift lock system in the world, under the supervision of Richard B. Rogers. After having visited and studied the three existing hydraulic lift lock systems in Europe, Rogers decided to apply the concept on a much larger scale in Peterborough – the locks had to overcome a difference of almost 20 metres in elevation! The contract to build the massive structure was awarded to an Ottawa firm, Corry and Lavendure, while the Dominion Bridge Company built the hydraulic lifts and presses used to make the lock move. Noted as an important engineering achievement, the lock was one of the first projects undertaken by Canadians for Canadians.

With the grand opening in 1904, the lift lock brought almost immediate prosperity to the Peterborough region. Despite the fact that the lift lock was unable to compete with the railway as a viable means of transportation, it became a desirable destination for recreational boaters in the 1930s. It instantly became one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions and, even today, it continues to draw hundreds of tourists every year.

Few changes have been made to the original design, except for minor upgrades made in the 1960s. It still remains the largest lift lock in the world, and is often regarded as an architectural and engineering wonder.

The Peterborough Lift Lock was designated a National Historic Site in 1979.

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