A brief history
The community of Swift Rapids came into being when the power plant was completed circa 1917 replacing Ragged Rapids generating station 3.2 kilometers up river.It is located on the Trent-Severn Waterway about 32 kilometers north-north-west of Orillia, approximately 26 kilometers up stream from Georgian Bay and the same distance down stream from Lake Couchiching.
Until the early 1960's the only access was by boat or aircraft. The site for Ragged Rapids, the power plant upstream, was flooded over when Swift Rapids went into service. Initially the plant was operated by the town of Orillia (Orillia Water Light and Power Commission (OWL & P)). However as of Nov. 1, 2000, OWL&P was dissolved and replaced by the Orillia Power Corporation.
The plant was manned two per shift 24/7, a first operator and a floorman. During this period, into the early 60's, the population would have been between 50 and 60 people and comprised of plant superintendant, 4 first operators and 4 floormen, 2 marine railway operators (lockmaster and assistant,) a Handy Man and their respective families. The 2 Marine Railway operators were employees of Transport Canada, the entity responsible for maintaining specified water levels in the Trent-Severn System. Parks Canada eventually assumed this role and do so today. During the summer the Handy Man operated the company boat, as did the plant superintendant. It provided transportation to various access points along the Severn River to the outside world. The Handy Man also managed the team of horses used to haul firewood, mail and people during winter and between seasons.
Prior to the locks being completed in the 60's, the previously mentioned marine railway was the means used to transfer boats from one level to the other, a 47 foot difference. A similar marine railway, updated and more efficient, is still in service at Big Chute downstream from Swift Rapids and accessable via Upper Big Chute Road out of the town of Coldwater Ontario; an interesting destination by road or water.
Ownership of the Swift complex is somewhat unusual in that the locks portion and the waste water (five sluices) portion are owned and managed by Parks Canada whereas the power generating section is owned and operated by Orillia Power Corp.
The children attended a one room school also operated by the OWL&P who supplied a competent teacher to grade eight level. Beyond this level the students were boarded in Orillia or Washago to attend high school. To-day the plant is remotely operated from a control Center in Orillia. A station operator lives at the colony to be available in emergencies and to perform switching and other routine duties.