History of King's Highway 11:
King's Highway 11 is the second longest provincial highway in Ontario. It is also one of Ontario's most important arterial highways, providing convenient access from Southern Ontario to Cottage Country and Northern Ontario. The highway has had an enormous impact on the development of Northern Ontario. The highway brought isolated communities closer together and improved the transportation of valuable natural resources such as timber, metals and minerals. The completion of Highway 11 between Hearst and Geraldton also allowed vehicular traffic to traverse Ontario continuously from the Manitoba Boundary to the Quebec Boundary. Until this section of the highway was finished, there was no road that linked Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario. Consequently, Highway 11 has played a vital role in shaping the Ontario which we know today.
Highway 11 was first established in 1920. The highway began in Toronto and followed Yonge Street to Bradford and Barrie. The highway then continued north to Orillia and ended at the Severn River. Beyond the Severn River, the road was maintained as a Northern Development Trunk Road, which did not have a highway number. The trunk road went as far as North Bay, but it did not proceed any further. The Government of Ontario sought to improve access to the booming Timiskaming and Cochrane Districts, as it was felt that improved road access to these regions was vital in order to ensure their ongoing prosperity. Construction began on an extension to the trunk road from North Bay to Cobalt in 1925, to permit traffic to enter the Timiskaming District from the south. The trunk road was completed and officially opened to traffic on July 2, 1927. The trunk road was named the Ferguson Highway, in honour of Premier G. Howard Ferguson. Premier Ferguson was one of the largest proponents of northern development and procured the construction of many new trunk roads including the North Bay to Cochrane Trunk Road. The trunk road from the Severn River to North Bay soon became known as the Ferguson Highway as well, even though it wasn't actually part of the highway that Ferguson's Government had constructed. The Ferguson Highway was gradually extended from Cochrane to Hearst in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the mid-1930s, the Department of Highways of Ontario (DHO) amalgamated with the Department of Northern Development (DND). The DHO assumed responsiblity for the trunk roads previously maintained by the DND, including the Ferguson Highway from Severn River to Hearst. The entire Ferguson Highway was designated as Highway 11 in 1937.
During the late 1930s, an access road was built from Highway 17 at Nipigon to the booming gold mines near Geraldton. During World War II, a road was completed between Geraldton and Hearst, forging a new highway link across Northern Ontario. This new road was technically the first Trans-Canada Highway, because the famed Trans-Canada Highway around Lake Superior via Wawa was incomplete until the 1960s. Upon the road's completion in 1943, the entire highway from Hearst to Nipigon was designated as Highway 11. For many years, Highway 11 ended in Nipigon. In the 1950s, construction got underway to provide a new highway link between Thunder Bay and Fort Frances. Initially, this highway was known as Highway 120, but the road was later designated as an extension of Highway 11. In order to do this, the DHO had to sign a 180 km section of Highway 17 concurrently with Highway 11 between Nipigon and Shabaqua Corners and redesignate a section of Highway 71 from Fort Frances to Rainy River as Highway 11. The new highway from Thunder Bay to Fort Frances was completed in 1965. The new highway link boasted an impressive 4.8 km (3 mile) causeway across Rainy Lake. The new Highway 11 link greatly reduced the highway distance between Fort Frances and Thunder Bay. It also marked the completion of Highway 11, which now covered a distance of almost 1,900 km. Highway 11 was designated as a Trans Canada Highway route from North Bay to the Highway 71 Junction near Emo during the 1960s.
By the 1950s, traffic volumes had begun to overwhelm some sections of Highway 11. As parts of the highway were reconstructed, some sections were widened to four lanes while other sections were bypassed altogether. Holland Landing, Orillia, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Burk's Falls, Powassan, North Bay, Cobalt, Haileybury, New Liskeard and Thunder Bay were all bypassed entirely between 1950 and 1975. The Orillia Bypass was constructed as a four-lane freeway in the late 1950s. In addition, Highway 11 was upgraded to a four-lane undivided highway from Barrie to Gravenhurst during the 1960s. In the early 1970s, work began to widen the existing Highway 11 between Gravenhurst and Huntsville to four lanes. In general, this section of the highway was "twinned" by constructing a new roadway beside the existing highway, although a new route was constructed to bypass the Town of Gravenhurst altogether. Major intersections between Gravenhurst and Huntsville were grade-separated, but lower-volume intersections were left at-grade. Since the 1970s, many of these at-grade intersections along Highway 11 have been closed off and grade-separated whenever traffic volumes warrant such improvements.
Travel between the Greater Toronto Area and Cottage Country continued to grow dramatically. Summer weekend traffic volumes on Highway 11 eventually reached a point where it was no longer safe to make left turns onto or off of the highway. The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) decided to try a new design approach in order to accommodate the increased traffic volumes. During the 1970s and 1980s, the existing undivided four-lane highway from Barrie to Gravenhurst was converted into a RIRO (Right-In, Right-Out) expressway. A continuous centre median barrier was installed along all undivided sections of the highway from Barrie to Gravenhurst, which eliminated all left-turning movements from the highway. Grade separations were constructed periodically along the highway to allow traffic wishing to turn left to exit the highway and turn around so that the desired destination could be accessed by a right turn instead. The new highway design proved to be an economical way of increasing the highway's capacity without having to resort to large-scale property expropriation along the existing highway. The new RIRO expressway design also allowed access to remain open to the hundreds of businesses which line Highway 11. By the mid-1980s, Highway 11 was a continuous four-lane divided highway from Barrie to Huntsville.
Traffic volumes on Highway 11 near North Bay had also grown considerably by the 1980s. In 1987, a new four-lane freeway was completed which bypassed Callander. In addition, the existing North Bay Bypass from Highway 17 to Highway 11B (Lakeshore Drive) was widened to four lanes. In the 1990s, work began to widen the existing Highway 11 from Callander to Trout Creek to four lanes. The highway was "twinned" by constructing a new roadway beside the existing highway. Major intersections were grade-separated, but lower-volume intersections were left at-grade. The twinning of the existing lanes concluded in 2006 between Trout Creek and South River. Trout Creek was bypassed by a fully controlled-access freeway on an entirely new alignment. Construction also began on the Huntsville to Emsdale section of Highway 11 in the late 1990s. The highway was widened to four lanes by twinning the existing two-lane roadway, except for a short section near Emsdale which was built on a new alignment. Construction is still ongoing, but a four-lane divided highway now exists from Huntsville northerly to Highway 518 near Emsdale. Another project began in 2006, which involves the twinning of Highway 11 from Highway 518 to Burk's Falls. This project is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2010. Construction began on the Sundridge and South River Bypass in 2007. This project is expected to be completed in 2011. The twinning of the Burk's Falls to Sundridge section of Highway 11 began in 2009 and should be complete by 2012, providing that government funding and construction contracts remain on schedule. This final project will complete the new four-lane highway continuously between Huntsville and North Bay.
During the late 1990s, the section of Highway 11 from Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto to the Highway 400A & Highway 93 Junction at Crown Hill near Barrie was formally decommissioned as a King's Highway. The Government of Ontario did not consider this section of Highway 11 to be a route of provincial significance because of the road's proximity to parallel freeways such as Highway 400 and Highway 404. In total, 100 km of Highway 11 was transferred or "downloaded" to municipalities. Some of these sections of Highway 11 were previously considered to be connecting links, where provincial ownership of the highway had actually been relinquished at an earlier date. On April 1, 1996, a total of 32 km of Highway 11 lying between the City of Toronto and the County of Simcoe's southern boundary near Bradford was transferred to the Regional Municipality of York. On March 31, 1997, the section of Highway 11 between the County of Simcoe's southern boundary and Crown Hill, north of Barrie, was transferred to the County of Simcoe, the Town of Bradford-West Gwillimbury, the City of Barrie and the County of Simcoe. Highway 11 is now known as Yonge Street within the City of Toronto, Simcoe Road 4 and Simcoe Road 93 in Simcoe County and York Road 1 in York Region. The complicated former route of Highway 11 through Barrie is now known by local street names only (Yonge Street, Burton Avenue, Essa Road, Bradford Street, Dunlop Street, Blake Street and Penetanguishene Road). There are no longer any Highway 11 signs guiding traffic along this route through the City of Barrie. At present, Highway 11 officially begins at the Highway 400A and Highway 93 Junction at Crown Hill, even though Highway 11 is signed along the short unmarked route of Highway 400A from Highway 400 to Crown Hill.
Highway 11 is almost exclusively a rural highway. The highway passes through some cities and towns along its 1,784 km route, but it also traverses some of the emptiest and most isolated regions of Northern Ontario. In general, the portions of Highway 11 through Central Ontario from Barrie to North Bay are the most developed. The principal towns located along Highway 11 are Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Burk's Falls, North Bay, Haileybury, New Liskeard, Englehart, Matheson, Cochrane, Smooth Rock Falls, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Geraldton, Nipigon, Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Fort Frances and Rainy River. A 180 km section of Highway 11 is signed concurrently with Highway 17 between Nipigon and Shabaqua Corners, along with another short concurrent routing with Highway 17 along the North Bay Bypass. Most sections of Highway 11 are two lanes, but a 145 km section of the highway from Barrie to Emsdale is now a limited-access four-lane divided highway. The 55 km section of Highway 11 from South River to North Bay is also a limited-access four-lane divided highway. The North Bay Bypass and the Thunder Bay Bypass are both undivided four-lane arterial highways. There are also some undivided four-lane sections through other towns and cities along the highway's route. The speed limit on Highway 11 is 90 km/h (55 mph), unless posted otherwise. The Orillia Bypass and all portions of Highway 11 from Gravenhurst to Emsdale and from South River to North Bay are posted at 100 km/h (60 mph). Highway 11 is signed as a north-south highway from Barrie to Cochrane and an east-west highway from Cochrane to Rainy River. Moose are quite common along most sections of Highway 11. These enormous animals can often be seen crossing the highway corridor. This represents a serious collision hazard, because these animals are difficult for motorists to see at night. Slow down and be prepared for moose if you plan to use Highway 11 at night.
Services along Highway 11 are quite plentiful between Barrie and Gravenhurst. From Gravenhurst to North Bay, services are somewhat more limited, but are still available regularly at highway exits. From North Bay to Hearst, services are quite sporadic outside of major towns and communities. Services are very scarce between Hearst and Nipigon. There are absolutely no gas stations between Hearst and Klotz Lake, which represents a gap of almost 170 km. However, there is a small wilderness outfitter operating out of a private residence at the Nagagami River (near the Highway 631 Junction) where gas is available during operating hours. There are no gas stations located between Klotz Lake and Longlac and services remain rather scarce between Longlac and Nipigon, except in major communities and towns. It is highly advisable to fill up before venturing out on Highway 11 between Hearst and Nipigon, since services are not always readily available. Services appear more frequently along Highway 11 between Nipigon and the Highway 102 Junction west of Thunder Bay, but are very scarce from the Highway 102 Junction to Fort Frances. Services are also infrequent between Fort Frances and Rainy River.
Additional Information About King's Highway 11:
Learn More About King's Highway 11 (My Upcoming Publications)
King's Highway 11 - Route Information (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)
King's Highway 11 - A Virtual Tour (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)