April 17, 2023
An aerial view of Burleigh Falls, 2021
By Guy Scott
The Trent River system flows from Balsam Lake to Lake Ontario on the Bay of Quinte. For much of its course, it is not a proper river at all, but a series of shallow lakes connected by short water falls, rapids or channels. These obstructions are created where the water course meets a rock ledge or obstruction. Such a site is Burleigh Falls where the water leaves Lower Buckhorn/Lovesick Lake and plunges over a granite outcrop into Stoney Lake. A portage was necessary to avoid the tumbling water. In ‘waterfall’ terms, Burleigh Falls is considered a cascade.
The portage was an obvious site for the native camp. The early lumbermen built a log chute here to facilitate their log drives on the way to the mills at Trenton or Peterborough. In 1856, a local entrepreneur named Holmes built an Inn on an island to lodge travellers, especially river drivers. By 1899, the Inn had lost its lumberman business, but has substituted tourists for lumbermen and the Park Hotel gained a reputation with nature lovers and fishermen.
The Burleigh Colonization Road was begun in 1860 to connect Peterborough with its north-eastern hinterland townships. Burleigh Falls was an obvious spot for the road to cross the Kawartha Lakes. The area in the vicinity of the Falls is extremely rocky and attracted few if any farmers. Most farmers settled in the eastern end of the township. Likewise, the first sawmills sprang up in other locations. A post office was opened in 1865 and named Burleigh Falls after the township of Burleigh.
In 1887, the Trent Lock #28 was constructed a Burleigh Falls. It was considered to be the most difficult lock on the canal to build due to the granite rock that formed the falls. It included a 7’ dam and made travel on the canal continuous from Balsam Lake to Lakefield. Another dam and lock was built at the junction of Lovesick and Lower Buckhorn Lakes that was a mere 3’ high.
Burleigh Falls never really contained a formal town site. It featured at least one general store, several lodges or hotels, a school and a church, but most economic activity was elsewhere. Today it is a tourist town: taking advantage of its location on the Kawartha Lakes.