February 6, 2023
White Lake Near Irondale
Living on a chain of lakes that seldom (if ever) flood and maintain their height within a few inches is not a natural state of affairs. The Trent-Severn Waterway is in fact very complicated feat of hydrological engineering. Initially, despite the dams and locks, navigation was still difficult in late summer as water levels dropped. To even out the fluctuations, thousands of acres were flooded to the north in creating reservoir lakes, borrowing on the expertise (and often the dams) of logging operations.
Even today, in some seasons, witnessing this nineteenth century relic—drowned land as far as the eye can see can look ghastly. At other times, the lakes have their own unique charm. On many of the reservoirs, the tremendous landscape changes have been naturalized over the generations since.
These reservoir lakes are also some reflection of the landscapes that the nineteenth century immigrants to the Kawarthas called home. As the Kawarthas were dammed for mills and locks, the lakes were raised (often approximately 5 feet). This flooded a ring of land around the lakes, creating an equally striking belt of drowned land, that many of the immigrants blamed for the coincident malaria epidemics. They were generally seen as a vile and putrefying mess. On much of the Kawarthas the drowned land has been cleared, though it is still evident in some less frequented corners.