Hwy 61 Hwy 61 Hwy 61   

Ontario Highway 61 Quick Facts:
  • Years in Existence: 1937-Present
  • Current Status: In Service
  • Location: Northwestern Ontario
  • Districts Served: Thunder Bay
  • Towns Served: Thunder Bay
  • Southern Terminus: Pigeon River International Bridge
  • Northern Terminus: Hwy 11 & Hwy 17 - Thunder Bay
  • Current Length: 61.1 km / 38.0 miles
HWY 61 - © Cameron Bevers
King's Highway 61 Sign © Cameron Bevers

History of King's Highway 61:

King's Highway 61 is a major collector highway which forms an important international transportation link between Duluth, Minnesota and Thunder Bay, Ontario. The highway enters Canada from the United States at the Pigeon River International Bridge, located 60 km south of Thunder Bay. Although the route of King's Highway 61 wasn't formally established until 1937, it was the road's initial creation in 1917 that make the route of Highway 61 especially noteworthy.

In the early part of the 20th Century, road builders began constructing roads further outwards from Fort William and Port Arthur (today's City of Thunder Bay) in order to encourage more development in the Thunder Bay District. One of these roads, known locally as the "Scott Highway", was constructed south from Fort William towards the United States Boundary. The road was constructed as far south as the Pigeon River, where the lack of bridge into the United States prevented road access into Ontario. Prior to 1917, access to the Thunder Bay District was only possible via ship or by train. Frustrated by the lack of road access, community groups in Port Arthur, Fort William and Duluth who wished to provide a continuous road between the cities raised enough funds to construct a timber bridge across the Pigeon River. The Pigeon River Bridge was opened to traffic to much fanfare in 1917. The bridge was quickly given the colourful but rather notorious name the "Outlaw Bridge", because it was constructed and opened without any formal agreement between Canada and the United States. The original timber structure was replaced by a more permanent steel truss bridge in 1930. Customs houses were constructed on both sides of the boundary, establishing a more formal border crossing point between Canada and the United States. The road network in Northwestern Ontario was slow to develop. Even after the Pigeon River Bridge was built, it was still impossible to access the District of Thunder Bay by automobile from the rest of Canada, without passing through the United States. The Trans-Canada Highway was completed between Kenora and Fort William and Port Arthur in 1934, finally providing an all-Canadian route into the Thunder Bay District. The Scott Highway was administered by the Department of Northern Development as a trunk road up until 1937, when the Department of Northern Development was amalgamated with the Department of Highways of Ontario (DHO).

A Preliminary Route Plan was prepared by the DHO in May, 1937, showing the proposed assumption of the Scott Highway from the Kaministiquia River Bridge in Fort William to the United States Boundary at Pigeon River. The new highway was approximately 43 miles in length, including a non-assumed section of the Scott Highway between Downtown Fort William and the Kaministiquia River Bridge. This non-assumed section of the Scott Highway remained under the jurisdiction of the municipality. Since the highway on the Minnesota side of the boundary was designated as U.S. Route 61, the DHO selected King's Highway 61 as the route's designation on the Canadian side of the border. The entire route of the Scott Highway from the Kaministiquia River Bridge to the Pigeon River Bridge was assumed and formally designated as King's Highway 61 on October 6, 1937. Highway 61 was signed through Fort William along James Street, Frederica Street, Ford Street and Kingsway. The route of Highway 61 originally ended at Arthur Street (Highway 17) in Downtown Fort William. Nearly the entire route of Highway 61 was paved at the time of assumption. The final gravel section near Pigeon River was paved over in 1937, making Highway 61 the first highway in Northwestern Ontario to be paved from end-to-end.

The route of Highway 61 changed very little until the 1960s. In the early 1960s, a new bridge across the Pigeon River was built, along with an expanded customs facility. The new bridge was located several kilometres to the east of the old Pigeon River Bridge. Both King's Highway 61 and U.S. Route 61 were both realigned to meet up with the new bridge. After the new Pigeon River Bridge officially opened to traffic on November 1, 1963, the old bridge was dismantled. The foundations of the customs houses and the old bridge abutments at the former border crossing site are still quite visible, even today. Almost 11 km of the original route of Highway 61 were bypassed as a result of the construction of the new bridge. Most of the old route of Highway 61 was formally re-designated as Secondary Highway 593, effective April 9, 1964. The southernmost section of Old Highway 61 from Highway 593 to the Old Pigeon River Bridge was transferred to the Corporation of the Municipality of Neebing on April 11, 1964. As the City of Fort William expanded its boundaries in the 1960s, a section of Highway 61 from the Kaministiquia River Bridge southerly to the new city limits was transferred to the City of Fort William on June 11, 1964.

In the late 1960s, the Lakehead Expressway (now called the Thunder Bay Expressway) was constructed, and Highway 61 was rerouted onto the new bypass. The old route of Highway 61 leading into Fort William was renumbered as Highway 61B. As a result of the new Lakehead Expressway, through traffic on Highway 61 could easily access Highway 11 & Highway 17. The old route of Highway 61 through Fort William via City Road, James Street, Frederica Street, Ford Street and Kingsway was especially cumbersome for trucks. The route of Highway 61 remained unchanged until 2007, when a new route for Highway 11 & Highway 17 was established via the new Shabaqua Highway. As a result, Highway 61 was extended north along the Thunder Bay Expressway for roughly 3 km between the highway's former northern terminus at Arthur Street (Old Highway 11 & Highway 17) and the Shabaqua Highway (New Highway 11 & Highway 17).

Most sections of Highway 61 are two lanes, although the Thunder Bay Expressway is a four-lane undivided highway from Thunder Bay Airport north of the Kaministiquia River to the Highway 11 & Highway 17 Junction. Highway 61 was built to very high standards, with full width paved shoulders along most parts of the highway. Passing lanes appear regularly along Highway 61 between Pigeon River and Thunder Bay. Highway 61 is one of Northwestern Ontario's most scenic highways, passing through pleasant rural valleys surrounded by high, flat-topped mountains known as mesas. Highway 61 connects with Minnesota State Highway 61 (Formerly U.S. Route 61) at Pigeon River. Apart from the City of Thunder Bay located at the northern end of Highway 61, there are no other communities of any size along Highway 61. Accordingly, there no services situated along Highway 61 outside of Thunder Bay. The speed limit on Highway 61 is 90 km/h (55 mph), unless posted otherwise. Please visit the Highway 61 Mileage Chart page for a list of mileage reference points along Highway 61.





HWY 61 ROUTE MAP - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 61 MILEAGE TABLE - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 61 PHOTOGRAPHS - © Cameron Bevers


Additional Information About King's Highway 61:

Learn More About King's Highway 61  (My Upcoming Publications)

King's Highway 61 - Route Information  (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)

King's Highway 61 - A Virtual Tour  (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)


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