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Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site of Canada

Cultural Heritage


Recreational use and its importance today

Recreational use of the Trent-Severn began early. By the 1830s, Rice Lake, Lake Simcoe and the Kawarthas were the focus of activity for regattas, fish and game clubs, and the first conservationist associations. It was the late 19 th century, however, that is most fondly remembered as the golden age of steamboating and resorts on the Kawarthas. The northward push of the railway provided the impetus for widespread tourist access to the lakes. Steamboats fanned out from railway terminals such as Lakefield or Lindsay, carrying vacationers to the summer resorts which were opening throughout the Kawarthas.

The idyllic and leisurely holiday pastimes of the golden years sound most romantic. Travel guides lured vacationers to the Kawarthas with such descriptions as, The Bright Waters and Happy Lands, where Nature lies in sweet abandonment and laughing waters kiss a hundred shores.

It was an age when mixed swimming was unheard of and group picnics called for formal attire. Popular amusements included steamboat excursions through the lakes, huge regattas, bonfires, dances and marshmallow roasts. Summer noons saw plumes of smoke rising from every secluded promontory, as fishing guides treated their clients to a shore dinner of bacon, eggs, potatoes, onions, fresh fish and pie. Regattas drew crowds in wide-brimmed hats and parasols to watch events such as men's canoe, ladies' canoe, swimming, crab, upset, hurry-scurry, dinghy sailing and tilting. Canoeing was all the rage, and the locally manufactured Peterborough Canoe brought international fame to the area.

© Parks Canada

Steamboats were responsible for bringing the tourism industry to the Kawarthas. Without roads, only the steamboat whistle could signal the arrival of passengers and supplies to the resorts and cottages encircling the lakes. By the 1870's, recreation had become an industry of considerable importance to the towns along the system. Steamboat excursions were an extremely popular pastime. Vessels built primarily for passenger service regularly plied the waters of Rice Lake, Lake Simcoe and the Kawarthas during the summer months. The Goldeneye was one of these launched on Rice Lake in 1876, and it could carry 300 people

As steamboats proliferated and extended service northwards, so did the number of hotels and lodges which sprang up to accommodate the vacationers. Although private summer cottages were also in evidence, in mood and style the 1870's to 1890's, was the era of the resort.

The era was of short duration. The once miraculous steamboats, which had opened the Trent-Severn to general recreational use, were eclipsed by yet another technological innovation: the gasoline engine. The advent of the automobile and improved roads made access to recreational facilities even easier. In recent years, the popularity of the year-round resort has boosted the area's accommodation industry with some of Ontario's finest five-star resorts continuing the Kawarthas proud history of tourism.