History of King's Highway 68:
King's Highway 68 was a major collector highway in the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin which connected Highway 17 near Espanola to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. The highway existed from the 1930s up until 1980, when it was redesignated as a new extension of Highway 6. The route of Highway 6 is now discontinuous between the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island. The isolated northern section of Highway 6 which used to be Highway 68 is only linked to the southern section of Highway 6 by a seasonal ferry service.
The history of Highway 68 dates back to 1937, when the Department of Highways of Ontario (DHO) assumed responsibility for the trunk road built by the Department of Northern Development between Espanola and Little Current in 1929. A Preliminary Route Plan was prepared in April 1937, showing the proposed route of the highway which connected Little Current to Highway 17. The Espanola-Little Current Trunk Road was 35 miles (56 km) in length when it was assumed by the DHO on August 11, 1937. At that time, there was no road link to Manitoulin Island. After crossing a series of islands south of Whitefish Falls, Highway 68 came to an end on LaCloche Island, directly across the North Channel from Little Current. A ferry service provided access between Little Current and the southern terminus of Highway 68 on LaCloche Island. A reconstructed ferry dock was built on nearby Goat Island in 1937-1938, which resulted in a short extension to Highway 68 across the channel between LaCloche Island and Goat Island. The ferry "Josephine" carried highway traffic across the North Channel to Little Current until 1945. That year, the existing railway swing bridge linking Goat Island to Little Current was retrofitted with a new road deck to permit highway traffic to use the structure whenever the bridge was not required by railway traffic. The one lane structure carried alternating northbound and southbound traffic on Highway 68 and was controlled by a set of traffic signals. All highway traffic on Highway 68 was temporarily suspended whenever rail traffic required use of the structure or if marine traffic approached the Little Current Swing Bridge. The structure otherwise provided 24-hour service between Little Current and the south terminus of Highway 68. The ferry service to Little Current was discontinued on November 28, 1945, as soon as work on the railway bridge had been completed. To this day, the Little Current Swing Bridge is the only highway link to Manitoulin Island.
In the late 1930s, Highway 17 was relocated onto a new, more direct alignment between McKerrow and Webbwood. This relocation of Highway 17 in 1938 resulted in a short extension being added at the north end of Highway 68. The highway was extended northerly for about 2 km from the old alignment of Highway 17 between McKerrow and Webbwood to the relocated Highway 17. Work on the extension of Highway 68 north of Espanola was started in 1940 and was completed in 1942. The completion of the deck modifications at the Little Current Swing Bridge in 1945 resulted in a short diversion of Highway 68 across Goat Island from the old ferry deck to the retrofitted railway bridge. This diversion was the first section of Highway 68 to be paved, during 1946. Paving work was completed between Espanola and McKerrow in 1947 and from the northern end of the Goat Island Diversion northerly for 9 miles to Hoken's Mill near Lewis Lake in 1949. The rest of Highway 68 between Lewis Lake and Espanola remained gravel-surfaced until the early 1960s.
Originally, the entire route of Highway 68 from the Highway 17 Junction south to Little Current was under the jurisdiction of the DHO. The section of Highway 68 through Espanola was transferred to the Town of Espanola, effective September 1, 1962. This transferred portion of Highway 68 was subsequently designated as a Municipal Connecting Link on October 25, 1962. The only other urban section along Highway 68 through Little Current was never assumed by the DHO when the highway was first established during the 1930s. However, a Municipal Connecting Link was designated through Little Current on June 17, 1965.
In the mid-1950s, Highway 68 was extended south from Little Current across Manitoulin Island to the ferry dock at South Baymouth. A Preliminary Route Plan was prepared in June 1955, showing the proposed route of the highway between Little Current and South Baymouth. The road was assumed by the DHO on December 7, 1955, thereby adding another 39 miles (63 km) to the length of Highway 68. Following the 1955 extension, the total length of Highway 68 stood at 77 miles (124 km). Most of this extension to South Baymouth was gravel-surfaced. Only the section between Little Current and Sheguiandah had been paved prior to the extension of Highway 68 in 1955. About 5 miles of paving work was completed on Highway 68 south of Sheguiandah in 1958. Significant revisions were made to the route of Highway 68 during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The original route of the highway was narrow and winding, so many sections of Highway 68 were realigned and straightened between 1956 and 1962. The length of the highway changed frequently during these years due to the number of diversions resulting from the reconstruction of the highway. The length of Highway 68 actually crept up as high as 81 miles (130 km), before dropping to its final length of 72 miles (116 km). In 1961, most of the remaining gaps in the pavement on Highway 68 between Espanola and Whitefish Falls were paved. By 1965, the entire highway from McKerrow to the Sheguiandah area was paved. In 1972, the rest of Highway 68 from Sheguiandah south to the ferry dock at South Baymouth was paved. In 1980, the entire route of Highway 68 from McKerrow to South Baymouth was redesignated as Highway 6. This route renumbering completely erased Highway 68 from existence.
It could be argued that the renumbering of Highway 68 to Highway 6 in 1980 was not a wise decision on the part of the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). The ferry service linking Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island only operates for six months of the year. Therefore, it does not seem logical that a provincial highway with one uniform designation should traverse such an intermittent route. In my personal opinion, the Highway 68 designation should be restored to the South Baymouth-Espanola Highway, in order to eliminate the present discontinuity of Highway 6.
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