The Kawartha Lakes are interconnected lakes in south-central Ontario. Ranging in size from 2 to 83 km2, historically they are considered to be Katchewanooka, Clear, Stony, Lovesick, Lower Buckhorn, Buckhorn, Chemong (including Upper Chemong), Pigeon, Little Bald, Big Bald, Sturgeon, Cameron, Scugog and Balsam. Hydrologically, Rice Lake (100 km2) should also be included. The lakes drain southeast through the Otonabee and Trent rivers to Lake Ontario. On the west, Balsam Lake (the highest in the chain) also drains into Lake Simcoe through a canal linking it to the Talbot River.
The resources of these beautiful, wooded lakes were first exploited by Native peoples, chiefly the Mississauga (a group of Ojibwa). On the northeastern tip of Stony Lake is Petroglyphs Provincial Park, which protects one of the largest concentrations of Native rock carvings in North America. There are Indian reserves on Chemong and Rice lakes.
European settlers arrived early in the 19th century. Once the centre of a thriving logging industry, the island-studded lakes became a popular vacation area after 1890, especially for sportfishermen. Steamboats carried visitors to several palatial resort hotels. Today, cottages line the shores and pleasure craft crowd the waters. The lakes became larger in volume and area because of the dams and locks for the Trent Canal (now the Trent-Severn Waterway) that was completed in 1920. The lakes form part of the waterway (administered by Parks Canada) linking Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. Locks allow pleasure boats to connect with all the lakes in the Kawarthas. Major communities include Lindsay, Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon (all now part of the city of Kawartha Lakes), Lakefield and Peterborough. The name is a corruption of a Huron word meaning "land of shining waters (or reflections)."