The Gannon’s Narrows Floating Bridge
February 22, 2023
Gannon's Narrows Floating Bridge, circa 1950
By Guy Scott
The Kawartha Lakes system can present quite a challenge to road building. Numerous large bridges were necessary to cross the chain of lakes. These bridges were built at narrow points on the waterway. Some of these points were rather narrow, making bridge building easier. But other ‘narrow’ points were much wider & more challenging. Rosedale, Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, Buckhorn & Burleigh Falls were obvious sites for bridging the lakes since they were very narrow sites, easily bridged. But other narrow spots were not so easily bridged.
One such spot was Gannon‘s Narrows. The neck of water between Pigeon Lake and Buckhorn Lake was several hundred yards across. The narrows was named after the earliest settlers on the south (Ennismore) side: the Gannons. For settlers & travellers in the area, the only alternate way across the lake was to travel to Buckhorn, a long side trip. Thus, there was a demand for a ferry boat at Gannon‘s Narrows. In the 1880s, Harvey Township built such a ferry for Gannon‘s Narrows. But ferry transport was less than ideal for many reasons: weather conditions being the largest headache. Therefore, demand grew for the next step up: a floating bridge.
As the title states, this was literally a bridge on top of a series of floating pontoons or boats. A plank roadway was laid on top of the pontoons and the sections were chained together. Obviously the floating bridge could not hold heavy loads, but it did serve the purpose. In 1903, the famous Chemong floating bridge at Bridgenorth was replaced and Harvey Township acquired sections of the old floating bridge. Thus, Gannon‘s Narrows received the hand-me-downs and a second floating bridge was built across the Kawartha Lakes. Floating bridges were not ideal at the Narrows. Boat traffic did travel through the Narrows since it was on the main channel of the Trent Canal, so a swinging section was installed near the south shore. When a boat came along, the section was swung aside to let the boat pass. Obviously it was labourous to open and close the swinging section. The spring freshet also caused problems when the current often ‘parted’ the bridge which had to be rounded up and reassembled. Winter also wreaked havoc, and several photos show shovellers hard at work removing ice and snow. Storms and ice flows also treated the floating bridge harshly. Travel across the bridge was darn-right dangerous, and often vehicles slipped off the single lane of planks into the water. The wooden planks wore out quite regularly and were constantly in need of replacement. One former student recalls a school trip to Peterborough when the students were forced to walk across the bridge: the loaded bus being too heavy! It was said a heavy load caused the bridge to sink 12 inches under weight! It must have felt like it was sinking.
As boat traffic on the Trent Canal increased, the Gannon‘s Narrows floating bridge became a liability. By 1953, the bridge was in need of massive repairs, and the County of Peterborough decided the era of floating bridges was over. The famous Chemong Floating Bridge was replaced earlier by a causeway). A causeway was built across most of the channel, and a high bridge was built over the main channel to allow tall boats to pass underneath. The Gannon‘s Narrows floating bridge was replaced, the last of its kind in Canada!