Saturday, 4 February 2012

A trip to the Kirkfield Lift Locks

One of the photo albums that came in was filled with pictures of the locks and waterfalls on the Trent Canal.

In particular the images were of the Kirkfield Lift Locks. The Kirkfield Lift Locks were begun in 1900 and were completed in 1906.  They were officially opened in June 1907. The concept of the lift locks was contrived by Richard Birdsall Rogers (15 January 1857 – 2 October 1927), a Civil and Mechanical Engineer who studied at MCGill University (1874-1878).  In 1879, he was appointed a Provincial Land Surveyor and in 1880 he became Dominion Land Surveyor.  He retained that position until 1884 when he became the Superintending Engineer of the Trent Canal.  Rogers the suggested the idea of the lift locks to John Haggart, Minister of Railways and Canals.  In 1896, Haggart then commissioned him to travel to Europe to study existing boat lifts in Belgium, France and England.  Rogers adopted the design of the Old Canal du Centre lifts in Belgium for the Lift Locks on the Trent Canal.

Richard Birdsall Rogers, 1878 McGill grad photo
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Prior to the construction of the Peterborough Lift Lock, also designed by Rogers, the concept of the hydraulic lift lock had never been implemented in the harsher Canadian climate. The successful completion of the locks was therefore a significant technological breakthrough.

In his biography written by Trent University, it was written:
During the construction of the Hydraulic Lift Lock, Rogers worked within a complex matrix of bureaucratic structures. He wrote reports and attended endless meetings to get permissions. Once the project was approved he found himself constantly summoned to Ottawa and Montreal to meet with authorities who demanded updates on the project. At the beginning of the work, Rogers found that he had some important and valuable supporters in the government specifically in Mr. Collingwood Schreiber, Chief Engineer of the Department of Railways and Canals, who corresponded with him on all matters relating to hiring of personnel and labourers, and on technical specifications. Mr. Schreiber was also the contact person in Ottawa for Rogers' reports. He advised Rogers on many matters and was consulted in the many changes that were ordered by the government. Rogers also had to contend with the many people who had input into the construction of this important and costly work. During this period in his life, Rogers related how occupied he was travelling back and forth between the numerous constructions sites, while simultaneously driving between Peterborough, Ottawa and Montreal, to name just a few places, to get decisions approved, to explain his methods of construction and just to reassure the authorities that the project was indeed progressing at a satisfactory pace.

Kirkfield Lift Locks under construction 1900-1906

One of two main contractors on the Works was Corry and Laverdure. The company excavated the site and built the concrete towers and lock.The other contractor was Dominion Bridge of Montreal which was hired to do the metal work including the rams, presses and large caissons of the lock.

The Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock officially opened in 1904 to great ceremony and fanfare with the Minister of Railways and Canals Hon. Henry Emmerson presiding and with the Postmaster General William Mulock in attendance. The Kirkfield Lock opened in 1906.
Source and for more information on the politics that tarnished Rogers' reputation, read:

The Neeland family went on an excursion on the Lintonia.

These pictures were taken about 1914.

At the time it was opened in June 1907, it was written:
"This important link in this great enterprise gives a stretch of navigation, 160 miles in length, besides placing all the towns on Lake Simcoe in connection with the canal. There only remain 23 miles at the south from Healey’s falls to Trenton and 14 miles on the Severn River to complete the undertaking of a complete waterway from Georgian Bay to Lower Lake Ontario."
Source: Orillia Times July 11, 1907

The same article also wrote:
"The trip down the canal was a very pleasant one and decidedly unique. For the most part the canal went through good farming country and there was ample variety of scene. At one time there would be high banks on either side; at another the canal would be higher than the land level, the sides being immense dykes of concrete and clay construction. One section runs through overflowed land where the canal proper is difficult of location, the buoys not being set yet. The work is of the most substantial character, the locks being cement, bridges with massive piers and one immense stone bridge with a sixty foot span is most picturesque from an artist’s point of view and is striking contrast to the iron bridges so commonly seen.

Between Lake Simcoe and Kirkfield, a distance of eighteen miles, there are five locks, each with a lift from fourteen to twenty one feet. The Kirkfield lock has a lift of 48 feet. It is situated at the height of land and Balsam Lake at the head of which it is situated, flows in the other direction. There is a driveway along the side of the canal and many availed themselves of this means of attending the opening. Houses for the lockmasters are now being erected. There is a good deal of driftwood and other debris in the canal at the present time but once the canal gets into operation, there will be a good channel for boats drawing a reasonable amount of water. The depth of the canal is eight feet."
Source: Orillia Times July 11, 1907

Have you taken any trips up the Trent Canal?  Please share your photos with us.

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