Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, March 18, 2019

Storming the Battlements

This image popped up on my screen-saver slide-show just now. I'd put the photos we took during our summer of '18 peregrinations with Cousin Elaine on to 'cycle.'

The wall has a medieval feel - the efflorescence on the concrete creates an ancient effect that belies its mere 120 years of existence. And those arched openings with the grills - so evocative.

And then this monumental entrance, hidden in the shadows. A heavy cornice, blind round-headed door topped by hood mould with bosses, applied to a slanting monolith looming above? Whassis? Entrance to a mausoleum? Sheltering bank and trees lend the spot an air of the sacred.

Then there's this pylon tower with string course, topped with a dignified cornice, its massive presence somehow conjuring pylons of Egyptian monumental gateways. Strength and beauty.

What we're looking at is an "engineering achievement of national and international renown" according to Parks Canada.

beauty and function

This is, of course, the breath-taking Peterborough Lift Lock National Historic Site. The lock was completed in 1904, built of steel and concrete, built by men who worked with shovels, and operated horse-drawn equipment.

Logging which continued in the north country, and ongoing fears of  American expansionism spurred its development; the growth of post WWII recreational boating kept it going.

Courtesy Trent Valley Archives

These historic photos were taken on opening day in 1904. The Historic Places account tries to capture the wonder felt by this neatly turned out crowd: "When completed in 1904 it was the highest hydraulic lift lock ever built with a vertical lift of nearly 20 meters (65 feet) and was reputed to be the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world."

photo used with permission. Credit: Trent Valley Archives

The website PTBO contains several more archival photos, and '15 neat facts about the construction of the Peterborough Lift Lock.' Neat. Do visit.

See the boaters peeking out from the upper chamber?
Even today, it's a marvel, and draws crowds. We were especially lucky to have time to enjoy the immaculate shady grounds and interpretive centre, then to watch a batch of holiday cruisers descend from up-river (up-Trent Severn Canal) to our vantage point under the trees.

The structure itself, with "towers, caisson pits, breastworks, two chambers and mechanical works" both visible and invisible, and the lock's operation, I leave to those who know and love things mechanical. Follow the links in this post to get the facts.

 I'm here for the aesthetics, folks. Like the park-like topography created by the construction of this marvel, which seems so serene, giving not a hint of the huge raw site of earth and water-moving this would once have been.

And like the other 'character-defining elements' including the ornamental railings and the interior finishings of the lockmaster's cabin - expect we have to take their word for it, as I doubt the tiny white tower room would be accessible to visitors (and the lockmaster's job might be one requiring intense concentration.)
the lock-master in his flag-topped cabin..
lowers them gently down..

touch-down, and down to Ashburnham

For your further enjoyment of this amazing place, here's the Ontario heritage plaque and a somewhat silly Hallowe'en video (suggest you turn the sound off) which nevertheless takes one on a rare visit inside the structure.

And thanks to Jimbo Wales, here's a history of the Trent Severn waterway. Not an easy job, it wasn't.

(all quotes from Historic

And finally: almost as good as being there. Here's a YouTube video that takes us through the locks. Gloriously uncrowded. It gets exciting at about the 11 minute mark.


  1. What a marvel the liftlocks are - and so elegantly simple. Thank you for celebrating them!

  2. Thank you for this post! My great grandfather worked on the Lift Lock and the canal above it to Burleigh Falls.