History of King's Highway 26:
King's Highway 26 is a major trunk highway which links the towns and communities along the south shore of Georgian Bay with Owen Sound and Barrie. The highway traverses a mostly rural portion of Southern Ontario, occasionally passing through some cities and small towns. The principal towns located along the highway are Barrie, Stayner, Wasaga Beach, Collingwood, Meaford and Owen Sound.
The history of Highway 26 dates back to 1927, when the road from Barrie to Owen Sound was assumed as a new provincial highway. Preliminary Route Plans were prepared in June 1927, showing the proposed route of the new provincial highway in Simcoe and Grey Counties. The new route was first assumed by the Department of Public Highways of Ontario (DPHO) as Provincial Highway 26 on July 2, 1927. Sections of the road passing through the urbanized portions of Barrie, Stayner, Collingwood, Thornbury, Meaford and Owen Sound were not assumed by the DPHO and thus those sections of the route remained under municipal jurisdiction. The new Owen Sound-Barrie Highway was 120 km (75 miles) in length, including the municipally-owned sections within towns (See Map). A short section of Highway 26 ran concurrently with Highway 27 between Barrie and Midhurst. In 1930, Provincial Highway 26 was redesignated as King's Highway 26.
When Highway 26 was first assumed as a Provincial Highway in 1927, the majority of the route was gravel-surfaced. Some sections of the highway between Owen Sound and Thornbury were already paved by 1927, prior to the route being designated as a provincial highway. Paving work was completed between Owen Sound and Meaford in 1930. Paving operations began at the eastern (Barrie) end of Highway 26 in 1931, when concrete pavement was laid north of Barrie to a point 3 miles northwest of Midhurst. Paving work was completed between Collingwood and Stayner in 1932. In 1933, 12 miles of single-lane concrete pavement was laid along Highway 26 east of Stayner. The second lane of the highway was not paved as a cost-saving measure during the lean economic times of the 1930s, and thus remained with its original gravel surface. The single lane of concrete pavement tied into the completed highway pavement northwest of Midhurst. Paving work was completed between Thornbury and Collingwood in 1934, thus completing a continuous permanent highway surface along Highway 26 between Barrie and Owen Sound. Although the paving of a single lane on Highway 26 east of Stayner was only intended to be a temporary measure, it actually took until 1947 before the second lane of Highway 26 was finally paved.
Out of all of Ontario's King's Highways, the route of Highway 26 has changed the least since it was first designated. Only minor revisions have been made to the highway's route since the 1920s, and most of these revisions have been made to non-assumed sections of the highway passing through towns. The first significant change to the highway came about in 1928, when a previously non-assumed section of Highway 26 was assumed within the largely rural fringes around the built-up portion of Collingwood. Highway 26 was assumed from the Grey County Boundary & West Collingwood Town Limits to Harbour Street, along with a section of Hume Street from Peel Street easterly to the East Collingwood Town Limits on February 22, 1928. That same year, a new section of Highway 26 was assumed by the DPHO approaching Thornbury. A section of 10th Line and Alfred Street was assumed as Highway 26 on July 18, 1928, providing a new provincially-maintained highway route into Thornbury from the west. Within Thornbury, Highway 26 followed Alfred Street, Bruce Street, Bridge Street & King Street. A new Highway 26 route via Arthur Street, Bridge Street and King Street was established through Thornbury in 1954, thus completing the route of Highway 26 through Thornbury that we see today.
Slight modifications were made to the routing of Highway 26 within the City of Owen Sound from the 1940s through the 1960s. As originally commissioned in 1927, Highway 26 entered Owen Sound on 16th Street, and turned south on 9th Avenue. Highway 26 then turned west again on 10th Street and ended at Highway 6 & Highway 10 in Downtown Owen Sound (at 3rd Avenue and 10th Street). In 1947, Highway 26 was rerouted via 6th Avenue, 15th Street, and 3rd Avenue. The original routing of Highway 26 via 9th Avenue and 10th Street was restored when it was designated as a municipal connecting link on October 12, 1961. Curiously, the 1947 route of Highway 26 via 6th Avenue, 15th Street, and 3rd Avenue was still shown on the Official Ontario Road Maps as the route of Highway 26 right up until 1967. The revised 1961 route for Highway 26 via 9th Avenue and 10th Street remained in effect for nearly 6 years. The route of the Highway 6 & Highway 10 municipal connecting link was moved from its original route via 6th Street and 3rd Avenue to a new route via 9th Avenue, effective June 1, 1967. As a result, the route of Highway 26 was truncated at the new Highway 6 & Highway 10 Junction at 10th Street and 9th Avenue. The route of Highway 26 has ended at this intersection since 1967.
In Collingwood, the original route of Highway 26 entered town from the east along Hume Street. Highway 26 continued west via Hume Street to the Highway 24 Junction (Hurontario Street), where it turned north and headed up to First Street through Downtown Collingwood. Highway 26 then turned onto First Street where it resumed its route west towards Meaford. This route for Highway 26 remained in effect up until 1971, when a new alignment of Highway 26 was established through Collingwood along Huron Street and Pretty River Parkway. This new route allowed through traffic on Highway 26 to bypass the congested downtown area along Hurontario Street. The new Highway 26 route via Huron Street and Pretty River Parkway was officially designated as a municipal connecting link on May 5, 1971. As the Town of Collingwood expanded in the 1980s, several significant provincially-owned sections of Highway 26 were transferred to the municipality. The section of Highway 26 from Pretty River Parkway to the East Collingwood Town Limits was transferred on September 2, 1987. A 2.6 km section of Highway 26 from Harbour Street to Princeton Shores Drive was transferred to municipal control roughly 3 months later, on December 12, 1987. The final 2.2 km provincially-owned section of Highway 26 within the municipal limits of Collingwood, extending from Princeton Shores Drive to the Grey County Boundary, was transferred to Collingwood on October 5, 1989. The entire 11.1 km route of Highway 26 through Collingwood is now considered to be a municipal connecting link.
Sections of Highway 26 approaching Barrie have also been decommissioned over the past 50 years, as the city has grown northwards. The existing non-assumed section of Highway 26 & Highway 27 (Bayfield Street) between Downtown Barrie and Highway 400 was designated as a municipal connecting link on May 19, 1966. On April 1, 1969, a 1.3 km section of Highway 26 & Highway 27 along Bayfield Street between Highway 400 and Livingstone Street was transferred to the City of Barrie. This section of Highway 26 & Highway 27 then became an extension of the municipal connecting link. On February 1, 1986, another 1.1 km section of Highway 26 & Highway 27 from Livingstone Street to the new City of Barrie limits was transferred to the City of Barrie. Once again, the municipal connecting link designation was extended north along Bayfield Street to join with the provincially-owned section of Highway 26 & Highway 27, which now began at the revised Barrie City Limits. In 1997, a 1.3 km section of Highway 26 from Highway 400 to Highway 11 in Downtown Barrie was decommissioned, when the municipal connecting link agreement between the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the City of Barrie was repealed for this section of the route. The connecting link agreement was formally repealed by a Minister's Order dated September 16, 1997. This section of Former Highway 26 within Barrie is now known simply as Bayfield Street. The section of Bayfield Street lying north of Highway 400 was retained as a municipal connecting link.
Increased traffic volumes on Highway 26 between Barrie and Collingwood prompted the Ministry of Transportation to relocate a section of Highway 26 in the Wasaga Beach area. Construction began on the new Highway 26 diversion in 2003. This new diversion was built as a four-lane divided highway that bypassed a very congested section of the original route of Highway 26 between Stayner and Collingwood. The new four-lane section of Highway 26 was completed and opened to traffic on November 14, 2012. The new highway corridor features two new multi-lane roundabouts, which were among the first ever constructed on a provincial highway. The new highway provided much-needed relief for through traffic on Highway 26, by providing a new high speed through route around Wasaga Beach for long-distance traffic between Barrie and Collingwood. The old alignment of Highway 26 through Wasaga Beach is now known as Beachwood Road. The old highway route has been assigned a temporary, unposted 7000-Series Highway number (Highway 7148). The completion of the Wasaga Beach Bypass in 2012 did not result in any change to the mileage of Highway 26, which still stands at approximately 116 km.
The eastern section of Highway 26 from Barrie to Midhurst is a four-lane undivided highway. With the exception of the new Wasaga Beach Bypass, the remainder of the highway is two lanes, with some short undivided four-lane sections near towns. Passing lanes are rather infrequent along Highway 26, although more passing lanes are being added to the highway as various sections are reconstructed. Services along Highway 26 are generally quite plentiful. The speed limit on Highway 26 is 80 km/h (50 mph), unless posted otherwise. The speed limit on the new four-lane divided highway bypassing Wasaga Beach is posted at 90 km/h (55 mph), unless posted otherwise. Please visit the Highway 26 Mileage Chart page for a list of mileage reference points along Highway 26.
Winter Driving Tip: Highway 26 is known for poor winter road conditions. Sections of the highway are sometimes closed during periods of poor winter weather, due to blowing and drifting snow. Blowing snow will often result in zero-visibility conditions. The weather conditions on this highway can deteriorate very rapidly when snowsqualls blow in from nearby Georgian Bay. On cold, windy days, it is a good idea to check the Road Closures and Winter Road Conditions pages on the Ministry of Transportation's Website, or verify road conditions by telephone at 1-800-268-4686 before using Highway 26.
Additional Information About King's Highway 26: