Big Chute!ONTARIO — By Milli Thornton on July 17, 2010 at 17:11
Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Brian Williams & Milli Thornton.
BRIAN IS ALWAYS reading boating magazines and dreaming of cruising the pleasure-boat waterways of the world.
He’d love to do the San Juan Islands in a Nordhavn 62-footer (around $2 million pre-loved, including VIP stateroom). Or, for those moments when the budget calls for something a little more modest, how ’bout the Saint Lawrence River in a 29-foot Ranger Tug (just under $225,000 for the 2010 model).
Millionaire dreams aside, the exciting moment finally came when Milliver’s Travels got to visit one of the places Brian learned of in Motor Boating magazine: Big Chute Marine Railway on the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario, Canada.
Big Chute is fascinating for boat lovers and engineers alike. Brian is both. But would it prove of interest to a foo-foo type such as moi, who needs her hot shower, her well-rounded breakfast and her breve (pronounced bre-vay) sipped at the local coffee house before she’ll agree to go adventuring?
I can safely proclaim that even a girlie traveler like me found Big Chute a tourist activity not to be missed.
But how does it work? In the words of your technically-challenged friendly travel guide, Big Chute lifts boats overland from one side of the Trent-Severn to the other. It does so by allowing boats to drive onto a submerged ramp; operators then secure all craft with special webbing slings.
One of the fun parts of watching from the sidelines is seeing a collection of different-sized boats gently glide up or down (depending on which side they entered from) the steep incline as you stroll beside them on the observation sidewalk. While bikini-clad wives wave to you from the suntan decks of their pleasure craft you can hear the hard-working Big Chute operators communicating by radio.
We watched four or five loads going in both directions and never tired of the novelty.
After gloating over the main attraction you can see the remains of the Old Big Chute, built in 1917. That one could only carry boats up to 35 feet long, which ruled out a lot of larger commercial vessels.
Brochures and prominently-placed info boards educate visitors on the flora and fauna of the region. This can be stirring stuff!
For instance, Engelmann’s Quillwort is a primitive aquatic plant with a fossil record dating back 206–248 million years. Closely related to ferns, quillwort is on the endangered list due to human development.
Meanwhile, if you didn’t already know that You Are in Black Bear Country, you can grab the brochure of the same name to learn how to avoid a bear encounter. Get the low-down on which local snakes are poisonous and which are not, and which are endangered. The Massasauga Rattlesnake is a provincially threatened reptile.
(Provinces to Canada are like states to the USA.)
You can also see a bottled example of the Sea Lamprey: a little dude with a scary smile that caused a big change in the modernization plans at Big Chute during the 1960s. The Sea Lamprey had been devastating the fishing industry; researchers had to find a way for the system to stop assisting the migration of the Lamprey before modernization could go ahead.
I badly wanted to get the Big Chute documentary on DVD, but we’d spent all our money the day before on a glorious float plane ride. One of my favorite displays was the Lego model of Big Chute that was sitting underneath the TV as it played the documentary for visitors.
Big Chute is operated by Parks Canada. Located approximately three hours north of Niagara Falls, we visited Big Chute as an easy day trip from our luxury base camp: Beacon Shore on Georgian Bay B&B (Midland, Ontario). Our B&B was all the luxury you could ask for in a vacation on the Bay, but without paying the high prices.
If you’re having a hard time narrowing down your activity choices in the Georgian Bay area, here’s the skinny: you simply MUST put Big Chute on your list. Free to watch and the only one of its kind still operating in North America.
Bring your own breve.
Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.