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PETERBOROUGH HAS A LOCK ON WATERY CHARM

You might wonder what Prince Andrew, Canada's oldest and biggest fishing tackle maker and several internationally known wildlife artists have in common. At one time or another all have had a connection to the busy little Canadian city of Peterborough.

Only 2 1/2 hours north and east of the freeways of Toronto, Peterborough is in a very different world. This is cottage country, a land of clean, fish-filled lakes, pine and white birch forests, loon calls and wildflowers.

And it's a land of gently rolling corn and clover fields, quiet country roads, beautifully maintained 19th century log and stone farm houses, and zigzagging split-rail fences.

This variety and contrast of unspoiled wilderness and civilization, along with the Trent-Severn Waterway, brings people by the thousands to Peterborough year-round.

Is culture your thing? Thanks to the efforts and interests of well-heeled urbanites fleeing city congestion, Canada's biggest private art gallery, jazz and folk festivals and a resident symphony orchestra offer year-round attractions.

Is history of interest? Peterborough and its immediate surroundings offer a half-dozen museums, including one at the waterway.

Peterborough is headquarters to the government agency responsible for the 230-mile Trent-Severn system. With its 44 locks, many dams, and dozens of bridges between Georgian Bay on Lake Huron and Lake Ontario, there is plenty to monitor. You might want to monitor its most impressive lock, the lift lock located at the city's edge.

Only five operational lift locks exist in the world, three in Europe and two on the Trent-Severn. Peterborough's has the biggest lift of them all and the engineering that makes it happen is well worth a tour.

A museum and gift shop provide a bird's-eye view of operations in rainy weather. If it's sunny, you can stand on shore to see the pleasure boats lock through. (You can see it for yourself aboard a boat based in Peterborough offering day trips and dinner cruises.)

The sensation of locking through is much akin to riding an elevator. It's a smooth, surprisingly rapid rise -- in minutes the upbound boat and crew hang suspended 65 feet above the downstream channel.

This unlikely engineering marvel was finished in 1904. Construction took six years, one reason being a well excavation 75 feet into solid bedrock. The 26,000 cubic yards of unreinforced concrete had to be poured layer by layer.

It works by gravity and clever plumbing. The lock has two water-filled chambers connected by a closed hydraulic system whose fluid is water. Any movement of one chamber causes and equal and opposite movement of the other. By filling the upper chamber with a few extra inches of water, it is made heavier and so sinks, forcing the lower chamber aloft as it does so.

The museum and gift shop are open year-round, but you can see the lock working only during navigation season, from mid-May to mid-October.

A good deal of the city's activity during summer focuses on the waterway that helped it grow. A park along Little Lake about a mile downstream from the lift lock is a favored spot for a stroll and view of Centennial Fountain, Canada's loftiest.

Twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday) through the summer its lighted 250-foot spray is a dramatic backdrop for the festival of lights. This is a combination concert and "boat ballet" during which lighted pleasure craft maneuver on the water with a fireworks finale.

If you stay at Peterborough's waterfront Holiday Inn, you can watch the action right from your room's balcony or from the outside patio overlooking the waterway. Peterborough has a waterfront zoo and art gallery, as well as shopping malls, a monster flea market every weekend and antiques and restaurants for almost every budget and taste.

By the way, the Peterborough fishing tackle maker mentioned at the beginning is Lucky Strike, founded in 1929.

The art is found in two top-quality art galleries a short drive from town -- Whetung's on the Curve Lake Indian Reserve and Gallery on the Lake. Whetung's sells work by Indian artists all over Canada (and serves native foods in its summer Tea Room next door). The Gallery on the Lake sells top-quality wildlife and nature art.

Another area "art gallery" is at nearby Petroglyphs Provincial Park, where more than 900 rock paintings, some more than a thousand years old, portray "spirit figures" on the surface of a large granite outcrop.

As for Prince Andrew, he attended Lakefield College in Peterborough in early '80s.

For information on accommodations, boat rides or the summer calendar of events, call or write Peterborough Kawarthas Tourism Bureau, 175 George St. North, Peterborough, Ont., Canada K9J 3G6; (800) 461-6424.

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