Destinations - Canoe Museum

Under Water Dining a true bucket list adventure
By Paul Knowles
The event is so unusual, so utterly unique, that people drive from across Ontario, arrive from other provinces – even fly in from San Francisco – to experience it. And each year, only 64 people win the lottery that grants the right to pay $295 per person to be one of this elite group.

And where does this all take place? Under water. In the world’s largest hydraulic lock. In Peterborough, Ontario.
It’s branded as “Under Water Dining at Lock 21”, and it is, without question, one of the most exclusive events in the country.

Lock 21 is an engineering marvel, a key point on the Trent-Severn Waterway. It was designed by local engineer Richard Birdsall Rogers, and opened in 1904. The Under Water Dining experience includes conversations with Rogers – an actor channeling the designer. Attendees also will met the voyageurs who pilot the 36-foot canoe which take them along the waterway, into and up the lock, and eventually, back down again, to a sumptuous gourmet meal prepared and served in the lower chamber, under the boat chamber containing about 1,700 tons of water.

This event takes place only four times during the summer, with a maximum of 16 participants each time. This writer got lucky – I won my attendance at the Travel Media Association of Canada conference earlier this year, so I was the only journalist to participate in the event in 2018.

There are a lot of lottery entrants – try your luck (, but if you don’t win, there are some other ways to sample the experience, which will be detailed below.

But the acme is clearly the Under Water Dining experience. While there are only 16 participants, by my count there must have been more than two dozen staffers, chefs and guides making the experience possible.

There was an introduction by Rogers and the helpful “voyageurs”. There wasn’t a lot of paddling, by the way – we paddled upriver a hundred yards or so, into the lock – and then were carried upward 19.81 meters to the waterway at the top. We toasted our status as voyageurs with maple syrup, and began a multi-stage tour of the lift lock with lockmaster Ed Donald, a man with vast experience, an even more vast sense of humour, and a seemingly infinite capacity for ghost stories.

The adventure continued with the canoe trip back down in the lock (complete with boisterous renditions of voyageur songs), hors d’oeuvres, a beverage, and live music on the “bullnose” in front of the lock, tours of the inner workings of the lock (more ghost stories, by the way), and then the gourmet meal, featuring local cuisine and matching wines – and some surprises.

Dessert is served in the Turbine Room, where famed Canadian scientist David Suzuki first learned that stalactites don’t only form in caves – they also grow in Lock 21!

It’s marketed as a bucket list experience – and it is. If you don’t win the Dining Under Water lottery, you should still visit Peterborough and the Kawarthas. There is a lot to do in the region, but I’m only going to mention two attractions that are most closely related to the Lock 21 experience.

First, of course, you can simply visit the The Peterborough Lift Lock National Historic Site of Canada, and do a self-guided tour, or there are boat tours that will take you through the lock. And since canoeing is an important element of the Dining Under Water experience, I visited the Canadian Canoe Museum. I know – I had the same initial reaction. Ho hum. I was wrong. This is a unique and fascinating way to explore Canada’s history, from the earliest days of our first nations to modern canoe adventures. If you can, take a guided tour – my guide was a professor from Trent University who knew all there is to know.

There are examples of every kind of canoe-related watercraft from the across the country, and intriguing exhibits including canoes presented to members of the royal family, and the iconic beaded buckskin jacket famously worn canoeing by Pierre Trudeau. Perhaps the most interesting thing in the place is a map – a map that strips away everything from the geography of Canada except the waterways, giving instant insight into the role canoes and canoeists have played in the development of the country.

The Canadian Canoe Museum is one of those places where you expect to spend half an hour or less – and leave, smiling and fascinated three hours later.

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ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2018.