Ottawa River boat lift system still motoring on

Added: Wed, 05/10/2017 - 11:08pm
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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – The Ottawa River boat lift system is preparing for another season of boating, despite misconceptions that the service ended years ago when government funding ceased. “During its struggling years, rumours permeated the entire valley that the boat lift system was shutting down. This
continued until most people believe it actually had,” said Gerry Cameron, a contracted operator for two of the three lift sites in the MRC Pontiac.
Commissioned in 1993 through federal financing, seven lift sites were created from Fitzroy Harbour to New Liskard to provide a way around obstructions (like rapids or hydro dams) so boaters could travel the entire 1,300 kilometres of the river; all infrastructure (ramps, docks, radio shelters, etc.) as well as the
equipment (truck, trailers) were also funded by the federal government, for ten years.  
“The operation ran fine for those ten years, but struggled once communities were left to provide a percentage of their tax base to support it. They dropped out one at a time until the last ones standing were the Pontiac on the Quebec side and Fitzroy on the Ontario side,” said Cameron.
Through the Ottawa River Waterway website, boaters can make arrangements to be met at a scheduled time and place, where for $70, their boat is loaded on a trailer, taken to the drop off point, and launched again. Cameron said the operation is not a profit-based model. “It's a service for local boaters to enjoy an
attraction and for outside boaters to contribute to our tourism base. It's not unlike the Rideau Canal, the Trent Severn System, or the Inner Coastal Waterway,” he said.
Currently, the MRC Pontiac funds the three lift sites on this side of the river (Bristol/ Bryson,Chapeau/Desjardinsville, Rapides-des-Joachims). The budget for 2017 is $20,000, which covers the maintenance of the docks, two vehicles, and four trailers. The contracted organizations providing the manpower pay a user fee for the use of the vehicles and trailers.
Cameron said he was instrumental in saving the service about five years ago when it risked closing, a problem that, according to him, is happening again because of low usage.
According to Danielle Belec, the MRC's Communications Agent, when the system was started, the government falsely believed supporting infrastructure like marinas and shore-side restaurants would develop to compliment and encourage the use of the boat lift service. Soaring gas prices were also a problem. “These things really hurt the service's success,” she said, noting despite these problems, there is no talk at the MRC to end the service.
“This operation is a valuable tourism feature, and while we are faced with misunderstanding and the resulting struggle, this service stands to become even more valuable to our communities. If we lose it, there will be no reviving it,” concluded Cameron.