Calling all paddlers! Pile into the historic Peterborough Lift Lock this weekend

Overhead view of the Peterborough Lift Lock will two full tubs of canoes and kayaks during the Lock and Paddle event Photo by Justen Soule, courtesy of Parks Canada

Parks Canada is inviting canoers and kayakers back to Peterborough for the first time since 2019 to ride the world’s tallest hydraulic boat lift.

On August 26, hundreds of boaters will squeeze into the historic Peterborough Lift Lock for the Lock and Paddle event. It was built from 1896 to 1904 on the Otonabee River section of the Trent-Severn Canal and was designated a national heritage site in 1979 due to its massive size. At a height of 20 metres, it is the largest hydraulic lift in the world that is still in regular operation, according to Canada’s Directory of Federal Heritage Designations.

Parks Canada spokesperson Karen Feeley says the event is a celebration of the paddling community.

“In the past, the Peterborough Lift Lock was reserved for powered and motorized vessels. But a lot of people don’t realize they can also paddle through all our locks,” Feeley says. “The event is about introducing the paddling community to the Peterborough lock, and all other locks along the waterway.”

This year, Parks Canada encourages boaters to show the world what makes them happy, whether that means decorating boats, wearing costumes, or just having fun and cheering along. Feeley says this is the first year they’re returning since the pandemic, so they want to help lift peoples’ spirits with this simple theme.

“Even though it was an outdoor event, the pandemic didn’t let us have that many people in a confined space. Now we’re back with a bang and we want it to be free, easy, and fun,” she says.

The event comes at no charge for kayakers, canoers, and spectators of all ages. Everyone on a boat must wear a PFD, including both paddlers and passengers. Smoking and drinking are prohibited at the event, and stand-up paddleboards cannot be used during the lift or around the locks.

“When you have so many people together, stand-up paddleboards, regardless of the talent of the paddler, just aren’t stable enough to ensure safe operation. There’s a lot of turbulence that takes place in the tubs,” Feeley says. 

Everyone participating in the event should be in their boat at the bottom of the lift by 2:30 p.m. so they can board Lock 21 for lockage at 3 p.m. Feeley says a second lockage may be possible if enough people come to the event, which happened only once in 2018 when they had more than 300 visitors. So far, she says around 170 people on Facebook plan on coming to the locks, and 900 have said they’re interested. 

No registration is needed for the event, but Parks Canada won’t supply people with boats or gear. Instead, they recommend visiting nearby boating rental shops, including Kawartha Outfitters and Cottage Toys. The full list of shops is available on the event’s information page.

It’s also recommended that you bring:

  • A sound signalling device, buoyant heaving line, and bailer for each boat
  • A watertight flashlight
  • A water bottle
  • Sunscreen and a hat

No parking is available at the lock, and visitor centre parking is restricted to permit holders. Dropping off boats at the visitor centre, which opens at 1 p.m., is allowed. Parks Canada recommends parking at either Trent-Severn Waterway headquarters, Eastgate Memorial Park, Beavermead Campground, or Rogers Cove if need be. It also encourages experienced paddlers to paddle in from connected waterways at the latter two parking areas, or from Millenium Park and Del Crary Park.

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