Aug 012013
Trent Severn Waterway

There were many issues facing the TSW last year, staff lay-offs, changes to lock operations, First Nation settlement, worries about water management and flooding, that we are struggling to address and understand. After MP Barry Devolin tabled a Private Members Bill C-530 last month asking for change in governance of the TSW I decided to look briefly into the history of the TSW for guidance.

Built in the 19th century, during Ontario’s logging boom, it was built to open up the interior of the province, to promote agriculture, lumbering and to be used for industrial and transportation purposes to create economic prosperity. Upon completion Lake Ontario had been connected with Lake Huron trough 836 km of navigational waters with about 32 Km of man-made channels, 45 locks and dams. A few years after the completion of the TSW the Welland Canal (1932) opened which could handle much larger ocean going ships and the Trent became mainly obsolete for commercial purposes.

However it had created thousands of hectares of prime waterfront properties and had enormous recreational possibilities.

Originally the TSW was the responsibility of Transport Canada.

This changed in the 1970’s when it was transferred to Parks Canada (PC). At the time this probably made sense since it was more of recreational than commercial value. The TSW became the largest national historic site under the governance of PC.

For many years now PC has been criticized for its antiquated management of the TSW. Today $23.6 bill is the estimated market value of waterfront properties and the TSW generates $1 bill in economic activity each year (2009), Ontario sport fishing industry brings in $300 mill in tax revenues. Tourism is the chief industry in our area.

Fast forward to 2005, the election of Bruce Stanton, now MP for North Simcoe. As a former resort operator Stanton lobbied successfully to put the state of the TSW back on the government radar. In 2007 the federal minister of the Environment appointed a six-member panel to review all aspects of the TSW. 2008 The report on the future of the TSW was published: “It’s all about the Water” with 26 complex recommendations.

  • The panel asked for $270 mill over 10 years and some estimated that it would take $400 mill to ensure the future of the TSW.
  • Following this report the government committed $83 mill over a 5-year period (ending 2014).

Parks Canada allocated most funds to infrastructure replacement and repairs:

I.e. Bolsover Dam replacement at Lock 37 which is under way now or Hastings Swing Bridge replacement (County RD 45) as well as Bobcaygeon Lock 32 inspection and repair.

$7.5 mill were allocated to water monitoring equipment and about $29 mill to boosting the operating budget.

Last year, 2012:  Parks Canada announced $29 mill in budget cuts due to the federal governments deficit reduction action plan.

Citizens have voiced severe concern about these cuts and their economic impact.
Concerns for:
Water management affecting drinking water, fish population, navigation, archaeological discoveries,
Lock operations,
Economic impact on tourism,
User Fees

The organization Voices for the Trent-Severn Waterway, established 2008, is clearly concerned about a “sustainable financial future” for the TSW and tries to serve as an advisory board to our politicians.

Most importantly Voices is asking for a 5/10-year vision for the TSW with the input of all stakeholders.

Our local MPs have held several round table meetings.  The latest was hosted by MP Barry Devolin in Fenelon Falls and was attended by local business owners, tour operators, association members and our councilors.

What I took away from it was that our Government now views the comprehensive study: “It’s all about the water” as a “sitting” document, too expensive to follow up?

Infrastructure improvements are more likely to happen after Ottawa was forced to review all its capital assets after a piece of concrete fell of a Montreal bridge – legal, human costs.

All in all I have not heard a clear vision for the TWS.

Parks Canada is looking at the TSW as a National Historic Site while many of us are looking at it as a driver for the local economy and would like more input in the political decisions.

Finally, June 11, 2013 all these consultations have prompted MP Barry Devolin to introduce a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons calling for the creation of an independent Trent-Severn Water Authority that would assume all responsibilities for water management and canal operations and be given an expanded mandate to foster economic activity along the waterways.

The full text of Bill C-530 is available at:

The “Coalition for Equitable Water Flow” (CEWF) representing the interest of approx 40,000 residential property owners since 2006, has already followed up with a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 4 pages of amendments to Bill C-530.

Even though the political process is slow, our economic realities are changing and change needs to happen.

Our communities are taking action:

Fenelon Falls improvements to the lock facilities are a success.

Lakefield is planning to revive the waterfront through commercial leases for a Heritage Building, Residences with Commercial Outlets, Eateries.

Bobcaygeon built additional dockage, which NPLRA supported by sending a letter to Bobcaygeon Chamber of Commerce.

And last years statistics show that the traffic on the TSW up from 123,959 (2011) to 129,658 boats in 2012.

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