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The Trent Valley Navigation Company

June 18, 2023

The Trent Valley Navigation Company Steamer Esturion at Chemong Lake

By Guy Scott

One of the more interesting enterprises in Bobcaygeon’s history was the Trent Valley Navigation Company. The steamship carrier was a business owned by the famous Boyd family. Bobcaygeon did not get a railway link to the outside world until 1904, long after the golden age of the lumber era, so it was necessary have an alternate means of getting the goods to market. As early as 1861, Mossom Boyd operated a tug boat to tow scows of lumber from his mills to rail heads in Lindsay or Lakefield. As the lumber business grew, the Boyd Family developed the idea of a steamboat company to operate all over the central Kawartha Lakes.

The Trent Valley Navigation Company was chartered in 1883. The company was based in Bobcaygeon: the ‘hub of the Kawarthas.’ From this ‘hub,’ boat connections could be made all over the Kawartha Lakes from Lakefield to Coboconk. The eastern and western ends were not accessible until 1915, but the main commercial traffic was in the centre anyways. The company had a drydock or depot on the south bank of Little Bob Channel called the ways. By the 1880s, most of the locks were open and made travel practical in the area. The company operated regular schedules between villages. The steamships carried passengers and freight between “ports” on the lakes. The Boyds also had a fleet of lumber scows (large barges) that carried their lumber from Bobcaygeon to Lindsay or Lakefield. These were less elaborate work boats. The steamboats also operated on the lakes until winter closed the canal. Although the company had competition from the railways, many villages only had steamboat service.

The flagship of the fleet was the steamer Esturion. She was 96’ long with a beam (width) of 17’. Her interior was crafted from black ash and bird’s eye maple with red plush upholstery. A fine dining salon sold meals for 15 to 25 cents each. Equipped with electricity and powerful engines, she could travel from Bobcaygeon to Lindsay in 2 ½ hours with a stop at Sturgeon Point. She made 2 trips per day: cost $1.00 return. It was estimated she carried 27,000 passengers a year plus freight.

Other steamships plied other routes. The Manita travelled from Coboconk to Fenelon Falls and on to Lindsay. The Ogemah and Sunbeam worked the eastern section down to Lakefield and on to Peterborough.

The company also operated a fancy excursion scow called the Paloma. It could be leased for picnics or excursions of any sort. The work tug Beaubocage was the utility tug that towed the Paloma. The scow was also used to carry livestock, especially the famous Boyd herd of polled Herefords or cattalo to fairs and exhibitions. The Beaubocage had a steel hull and could break ice, within reason of course!

The golden age of the steamboats on the Trent lasted a mere two decades. Railways were the big competitor for both passengers and freight. When Bobcaygeon got a rail link in 1904, the writing was on the wall for the steamboat age. In 1915, the Trent Valley Navigation Company relinquished its charter. An age had ended for the Kawarthas.

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