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An Imaginative Journey Through the Trent Severn Waterway, 1920

November 27, 2021

A sailing breeze on Lake Couchiching, Orillia, Ontario, Canada

101 Years Ago, the Trent-Severn Waterway was finally completed, after 87 years of non-stop political lobbying and frequently stopped construction. The waterway had been promoted as a through route for commercial traffic, but it should have been obvious to anyone who thought about it that it was too circuitous and shallow for this to become a reality. Boats on the Great Lakes were never going to travel through the Back Lakes.

For all of the ink that was spilled in trying to persuade government to foot the massive bill of construction, there was surprisingly little fanfare when the through route was finally complete. But the waterway quickly became an essential part of the region’s identity, a favourite playground for tourists and locals alike.

Together, the Railways and the Waterway (even before it was complete as a through route), made tourism practical. Newly branded as the Kawarthas for the 20th Century, it was not long before the lakes became a major tourist draw.

At the same time, postcards became commonplace, an affordable souvenir—that even came in colour. In an age when photography was black and white, the postcards used real photographs, but were coloured, typically in an artistic studio that had never seen the place. Sometimes the artists took liberties that would stand out for locals. Often flags are coloured as the American Stars and Stripes.

If you are interested in seeing more of the waterway a little more than a century ago, check out our new online exhibit: An Imaginative Journey.

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