History of King's Highway 81:
King's Highway 81 was a collector highway located in the Counties of Middlesex and Huron which once which linked Highway 2 at Delaware to Highway 21 in Grand Bend. The highway was approximately 70 km in length and it existed from the mid-1930s up until the late 1990s, when jurisdiction over the highway was transferred or "downloaded" from the province to Middlesex County and Huron County. Highway 81 was one of several Southwestern Ontario King's Highways lost entirely to provincial highway downloading in 1997-1998.
Highway 81 was first established in 1936, when the Adelaide Road from Delaware to Strathroy was assumed by the Department of Highways of Ontario (DHO) as a new provincial highway. A Preliminary Route Plan was prepared by the DHO dated May 16, 1936, which showed the proposed highway route in Middlesex County. The proposed highway began at the Highway 2 Junction west of London at Delaware and continued northwesterly to connect with Highway 22 in Strathroy. The DHO assumed jurisdiction over the Adelaide Road on September 16, 1936, and subsequently designated the new route as King's Highway 81. At the time of the highway's assumption in 1936, Highway 81 was approximately 12 miles (19 km) in length. Initially, the route of Highway 81 was mostly gravel-surfaced. A concrete pavement was built along the highway from Delaware to Mount Brydges in 1937 and an asphalt surface was built between Mount Brydges and Strathroy in 1949.
In 1937, Highway 81 was extended north for approximately 32 miles (52 km) from Strathroy to Grand Bend, via Parkhill. Preliminary Route Plans were prepared by the DHO dated May 1937, which showed the proposed highway extension through Middlesex and Huron Counties. The highway extended north from Strathroy to connect with Highway 7 just east of Parkhill. In addition, the road between Parkhill and the Highway 21 Junction at Grand Bend was proposed as an extension of Highway 81. The DHO assumed jurisdiction over these two roads on September 1, 1937, thus completing the highway to its ultimate length of approximately 44 miles (71 km) (See Map). A short section of Highway 81 south of Parkhill was routed concurrently with the existing route of Highway 7. Most sections of the northern extension of Highway 81 were gravel-surfaced at first, although a 2 1/2 mile section of Highway 81 from Parkhill northerly to Moray was paved just before the province took over the highway in 1937. Highway 81 was paved between Grand Bend and Moray in 1951. A primed bituminous surface was laid along Highway 81 from Strathroy to Parkhill in 1946 and Highway 81 was paved from Strathroy to the relocated route of Highway 22 just north of Strathroy in 1954. The balance of Highway 81 lying between the Highway 22 Junction and the Highway 7 Junction east of Parkhill was paved under two separate projects in 1965 and 1966.
A few minor changes were made to the route of Highway 81 over the years. A diversion was built immediately south of Mount Brydges during 1937. The old route of Highway 81 (Allen Road) reverted back to municipal control, effective March 29, 1941. In 1946, Highway 81 was relocated near the community of Springbank. Originally, Highway 81 used to pass right through Springbank, via Springbank Road and Glasgow Street. The highway was realigned in order to eliminate several sharp curves along the original highway. The old route of Highway 81 via Springbank was transferred back to municipal control effective June 14, 1946. Another relocation of Highway 81 was required in 1969 due to the construction of the Parkhill Dam. About 1 mile of the original highway was bypassed when the new reservoir dam was constructed. The old route of Highway 81 lying immediately to the west of the Parkhill Dam was legally closed to traffic by an Order-in-Council, effective October 26, 1973.
In 1966, the DHO completed a comprehensive highway planning study for the London and Middlesex County area. Among the study's many recommendations was to ultimately transfer the middle section of Highway 81 between the Parkhill and Strathroy areas, once the proposed extension of Highway 402 was built between London and Sarnia. In turn, the transferred middle section of Highway 81 would be supplanted by a newly-assumed King's Highway that was to follow the existing route of Middlesex Road 17 from the Parkhill area to meet the Highway 402 Extension near Lobo. Once Highway 402 was constructed in the early 1980s, the freeway followed a more southerly alignment than the route initially envisioned by the 1966 highway planning study. Accordingly, the middle section of Highway 81 was kept in the provincial highway system, as it followed a more direct route to Highway 402 from Grand Bend.
As originally assumed in 1936 and 1937, the DHO maintained jurisdiction over the entire route of Highway 81 between Highway 2 and Highway 21, except for the sections of the highway which passed through the urbanized areas of Parkhill and Strathroy. These non-assumed sections of Highway 81 through Parkhill and Strathroy were officially designated as Municipal Connecting Links, effective August 21, 1958 and December 17, 1959, respectively. Initially, the province maintained jurisdiction over the route of Highway 81 through the Village of Grand Bend. However, the province transferred jurisdiction over the section of Highway 81 through Grand Bend to the municipality, effective April 17, 1965. The transferred section of Highway 81 through Grand Bend was formally designated as a Municipal Connecting Link by an Order-in-Council, effective May 20, 1965. In 1966, the Grand Bend Municipal Connecting Link designation was revised to include an extension of Highway 81 to Grand Bend's beach area. This short extension of Highway 81 from the Highway 21 Junction to Government Road at the Grand Bend Beach was designated as an extension of the Municipal Connecting Link by an Order-in-Council, effective May 19, 1966. The municipal limits of Grand Bend were expanded in the early 1990s. As a result of the municipal limit expansion, approximately 1 km of Highway 81 was transferred from the province to the municipality, effective October 21, 1993. This transferred section of Highway 81 was subsequently designated as a Municipal Connecting Link, effective March 9, 1994. A portion of the Grand Bend Municipal Connecting Link designation between the Highway 21 Junction and Government Road was revoked by a Minister's Order dated September 16, 1997. The balance of Grand Bend's Municipal Connecting Link for Highway 81 was revoked by a Minister's Order, effective January 1, 1998.
During the 1990s, Ontario conducted a review of provincial highway functions across the province as part of a general plan for a realignment of provincial services. It was determined that Highway 81 served a predominantly local function and the highway was recommended for transfer to the municipal tier. On March 31, 1997, the southern section of Highway 81 was decommissioned as a King's Highway. Ownership of the road from the Highway 2 Junction at Delaware to the south limits of Strathroy was transferred to the County of Middlesex. The Strathroy Municipal Connecting Link was revoked by a Minister's Order dated July 31, 1997. The Parkhill Municipal Connecting Link was revoked by a Minister's Order, effective January 1, 1998. The remaining provincially-controlled section of Highway 81 from the north limits of Strathroy to Grand Bend was transferred to the Counties of Huron and Middlesex, effective January 1, 1998. Former Highway 81 is now officially known as Huron Road 81 and Middlesex Road 81, but the route is still commonly referred to as "Highway 81" by many motorists. Services are available in most towns and larger communities along Highway 81. Unless posted otherwise, the speed limit on Highway 81 is 90 km/h (55 mph). Please visit the Highway 81 Mileage Chart page for a list of mileage reference points along Highway 81.
Additional Information About King's Highway 81: