Frequently Asked Questions About Ontario Highways

The History of Ontario's King's Highways - Main Menu

Cameron at Hwy 548 Bridge - © Cameron Bevers
At Left - Photo of me at the St. Joseph Island Bridge on Hwy 548
Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers    © 2007

On this page, you will find the answers to several frequently asked questions about Ontario Highways and my website. These FAQ's are posted here for your convenience, but please do not hesitate to email me if you do not find the answers that you are looking for. While I am certainly not an expert in all transportation fields, I do have an extensive knowledge of the history of the Ontario Highway System and traffic engineering/highway design principles. I will do my best to assist you with your questions. I try to respond to all email inquiries within 5 days. To return to my Ontario Highways website, click here.

Q. How long have Ontario's Highways been numbered?
A. Route numbers were assigned to existing provincial highways in Southern and Eastern Ontario in 1925. Northern provincial highways were assigned route numbers in 1937.

Q. Did Ontario ever have a Highway 1?
A. Ontario did not ever legally designate a Highway 1. The highway numbering began at Highway 2.

Q. Does the Queen Elizabeth Way have a route number?
A. In a way yes, but the route number is not posted anywhere along the highway. The QEW is sometimes referred to internally by the Ministry of Transportation as either "Highway 1" or "Highway 451". These numbers are used on internal Ministry documents and for accounting purposes, but they are not used externally or posted on the highway. They are merely reference numbers given to this otherwise "unnumbered" highway. The highway's legal designation has always been "The Queen Elizabeth Way".

Q. Why does Ontario not have a Highway 1?
A. The exact reason is not clear, but reportedly, Highway 1 was omitted from the 1925 route numbering system to eliminate conflicts between many of Ontario's larger towns, who all demanded to be on a highway bearing the route number "1". Given the geographic shape of Ontario, it would have been impossible for the Department of Highways to number a route that would pass through every major town in Ontario. Rather than risk any accusations of favouritism, the Department decided that they would simply not designate a Highway 1, and thus began the route numbering at 2.

Q. What is Ontario's highest numbered highway?
A. Presently, there is a highway in Northwestern Ontario which is known as Highway 811. It is the highest posted route number in the province.

Q. Why do you sometimes list two highways bearing the same number on your highway history list? For example, you have two routes identified as "Highway 70" in your lists, but in very different parts of the province.
A. The Ministry of Transportation sometimes "recycles" highway numbers. In the case of Highway 70, there were indeed two different highways bearing that number, albeit at different times and in different places. If the Ministry does re-use an obsolete highway number, all efforts are made to place the new highway designation as far away as possible from the original designation, to avoid confusion amongst the motoring public.

Q. What is Ontario's longest provincial highway?
A. Highway 17 is the longest, with a length of approximately 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles).

Q. What is Ontario's shortest provincial highway?
A. Ontario's shortest posted highway is Highway 644 at Pointe-au-Baril, with a length of only 800 metres (1/2 mile). There are, however, unposted provincial highways in Ontario that are even shorter.

Q. How old is the Queen Elizabeth Way? Did it really open in the 1930s?
A. Portions of the divided highway which became the QEW were actually opened to traffic as early as 1936. The highway was known as the Middle Road at that time. The road was rededicated as the "Queen Elizabeth Way" in 1939.

Q. When was Highway 401 completed?
A. The last section was completed in 1968. The first section was officially opened between West Hill and Oshawa in 1947, although traffic had been using the partially finished road beginning in 1942, while it was still under construction.

Q. How long did in take the Ontario Government to complete Hwy 401?
A. Construction of the West Hill to Oshawa section of Hwy 401 began in 1938, and the final section was completed from Ivy Lea to Brockville in 1968. Therefore, it took exactly 30 years to complete the highway from end-to-end.

Q. Is the Queen Elizabeth Way named after the present reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II?
A. This is a common misunderstanding. The Queen Elizabeth Way was actually named after Queen Elizabeth (better known in recent years as the Queen Mother), consort to King George VI.

Q. When was the Trans-Canada Highway opened?
A. The first Trans-Canada Highway was Highway 11, which went across Northern Ontario via Hearst and Longlac. That highway link was completed in 1943. The more familar Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 17 via Wawa) was officially opened to traffic in 1960.

Q. What was the first highway in Ontario to be paved?
A. The Toronto-Hamilton Highway (Lakeshore Road) was paved in 1917, making it Ontario's first paved inter-city highway.

Q. What was the last King's Highway in Ontario to be paved?
A. Portions of Highway 129 remained gravel until 1983. The runner-up is Highway 64, which had a short section which was not paved until 1981. In Southern Ontario, the last gravel section on a King's Highway (Hwy 25) was finally paved in 1973.

Q. How many miles of highways make up Ontario's provincial highway system?
A. The Ontario Government presently has 16,900 centre-line kilometers (10,500 miles) of roadway under its control. Until the municipal transfers of 1997-1998, Ontario had about 21,500 kilometers (13,354 miles) of provincial highways.

Q. How large is the province that these highways serve?
A. The Province of Ontario is Canada's second-largest province, with an enormous land area of nearly 1,100,000 square kilometers (about 415,000 square miles, or about 1/6th the size of the entire 48 Lower States). In terms of latitude, Ontario roughly extends from the 42nd parallel (equivalent to Crescent City, California) northerly to the 56th parallel (equivalent to Fort McMurray, Alberta). In terms of longitude, Ontario extends from about 74 Degrees West (roughly equivalent to New York City) to about 95 Degrees West (roughly equivalent to Houston, Texas). It may seem hard to believe, but Jacksonville, Florida is actually located closer to Ontario's Provincial Capital (Toronto) than Kenora, a city in Northwestern Ontario. It takes 24 hours (one full day, non-stop) to drive across Ontario on the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 17). It takes 8 hours to drive Ontario's longest freeway (Hwy 401) from end-to-end.

Q. How many people does the Ontario provincial highway system serve?
A. Ontario has more than 12,000,000 residents, most of whom live within 25 km of a provincial highway.

Q. How long have Ontario's Highways been known as King's Highways?
A. All primary highways in the provincial highway system were re-designated as "The King's Highways" in 1930.

Q. What is Ontario's northernmost provincial highway?
A. At present, Highway 599 is the most northern provincial highway in Ontario. It extends almost 300 km (186 miles) from Ignace to Central Patricia.

Q. Did Ontario once use white paint for highway centre lines, as opposed to yellow? When was this discontinued and why?
A. Up until about 1971, Ontario used white paint for marking centre lines on highways. This change in practice took place in order to conform with other North American jurisdictions which used yellow paint for centre line markings.

Q. If this is supposed to be a historical "highways" website, why are there so many bridge photographs?
A. Bridges are usually the oldest portion of any given highway, and are thus of great historical value to me. Pavement may get torn up, and highway signs may get replaced, but a bridge may last five or six decades with very few modifications.

Q. What is Ontario's oldest highway bridge?
A. The oldest existing bridge that I am aware of on a provincial highway is a bridge on Highway 8 in Stratford over the Avon River. The bridge was completed in 1885.

Q. What is the oldest bridge on the Queen Elizabeth Way?
A. The oldest bridge on the QEW is the Etobicoke Creek Bridge, which is undated, but was completed in 1932. However, the original span has been widened several times since the 1930s, so the age of the bridge is not apparent until you see the bridge from its side. The oldest dated structure on the QEW is the CN railway overhead just south of Highway 405. That bridge bears a date stamp of 1937. Unfortunately, the bridge was demolished in 2006.

Q. I have a bunch of those Department of Highways tokens, which say "Class 1 Vehicle" on them. What were they used for, and do they have any value?
A. The tokens were used to simplify toll collection on the Garden City and Burlington Skyways until the tolls were lifted on those two bridges in 1973. Unfortunately, these tokens are very common, and are not worth very much to a collector.

Q. Are older Ontario highway maps worth anything?
A. Yes, some of them are worth money to a collector. Ontario first began issuing the Official Road Map in 1922. The earlier editions (prior to 1933) are all very scarce, while the more recent maps from the mid-1930s through the 1970s are generally more common. Even the most common dates can fetch a couple of dollars apiece, if they are in decent condition.

Q. I heard that Highway 401 had no speed limit at one time. Is that correct?
A. No, all public roads in Ontario have been governed by speed limits since 1903. While there were no speed limits prior to 1903, a motorist at that time would be hard-pressed to find a vehicle that could achieve a high rate of speed, let alone find a road which could actually accommodate a high-speed vehicle.

Q. What was the speed limit on Ontario's early highways?
A. Ontario's first province-wide speed limit on rural highways was introduced in 1903 at 15 mph (24 km/h). The speed limit was increased to 25 mph (40 km/h) by the early 1920s and increased further to 35 mph (56 km/h) by the late 1920s. In 1937, the opening of the new Middle Road superhighway between Toronto and Hamilton prompted another review of the speed limits on Ontario highways. The speed limit on most rural highways was increased to 50 mph (80 km/h) in May 1937. During World War II, the speed limits were temporarily lowered to 40 mph (65 km/h) to conserve Canada's fuel supplies. The next speed limit increase took place in 1959, when the speed limit for passenger cars using the new superhighways such as Highway 400 and Highway 401 was changed to 60 mph (100 km/h). The speed limit for trucks and heavy vehicles on the superhighways was increased to 55 mph (90 km/h) in 1959. On some high standard two-lane highways, the speed limit for passenger cars was increased as high as 60 mph (100 km/h) in 1959. In the late 1960s, the speed limit on the 400-Series Highways was increased again to 70 mph (115 km/h) for passenger cars and 60 mph (100 km/h) for trucks and heavy vehicles. During the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, the speed limit for passenger vehicles was changed back to 60 mph (100 km/h). The energy crisis also brought about the reduction of speed limits on most conventional highways back to a maximum of 55 mph (90 km/h). During the conversion to Metric measurements in 1977, the speed limit on most conventional highways was reduced even further to 80 km/h. Since the 1970s, the speed limit on Ontario freeways has generally remained at 100 km/h (60 mph), while conventional highways have generally remained at 80 km/h (50 mph).

Q. My grandfather told me once that drivers in Ontario did not originally require a license. Is that actually true?
A. Ontario did not require passenger car operators to have a license until 1927. However, some vehicle operators did require a license prior to 1927. Chauffeurs, for example, have required a driver's license in Ontario since 1909.

Q. Is it true that early Ontario highway signs were made out of a porcelain enamel?
A. Yes, porcelain enamel highway signs were used extensively in Ontario until the 1940s.

Q. You have numerous highway signs depicted on your website. Did you acquire them legally?
A. Yes, all of the signs were acquired through legal means.

Q. I want a highway sign for my room. Can I order one from the MTO?
A. The MTO sign shop does not sell new highway signs to the public. However, there are many private sign contractors who can make you a brand-new sign to MTO's specifications.

Q. I heard from someone that Ontario's stop signs used to be square, as opposed to octagonal. Is this true?
A. Yes, the stop signs on Ontario highways used to be square until about 1955. They were also white in colour, as opposed to the more familiar red colour seen today. In 1955, the province adopted the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which set some basic standards for traffic signs across North America.

Q. When did Ontario's highway signs change from Imperial to Metric Measurements?
A. Ontario's highways changed to the Metric System on September 6, 1977.

Q. Is it true that drivers can calculate approximate distances between two freeway interchanges by simply subtracting the exit numbers?
A. Yes, that is correct. Ontario now numbers its freeway exits on a mileage-based system. A driver who is on the QEW, for instance, can easily determine the approximate distance between any two interchanges along the highway, simply by subtracting the lower of the two exit numbers from the larger of the two exit numbers. For example, if one wanted to figure out the distance along Hwy 401 between Hwy 400 (Exit 359) and Hwy 35/115 (Exit 436), the distance is calculated as follows: 436 minus 359 equals 77. Therefore, it is about 77 km from Hwy 400 to Hwy 35/115 via Hwy 401.

Q. I seem to recall that exit numbers on Hwy 401 were once numbered sequentially from west to east. When were the numbers switched to the current mileage based system?
A. The mileage-based exit numbering system was introduced on May 1, 1982. This exit numbering system is now completely in place on Hwy 400, Hwy 401, Hwy 402, Hwy 403, Hwy 404, Hwy 407 ETR, Hwy 416, Hwy 417, and the QEW. Exit numbering will be introduced on Hwy 406 and Hwy 410 in 2011.

Q. How long have you been interested in roads?
A. I became interested in roads when I was about 5 years old. My interest in Ontario's highway heritage began in 1995, when I purchased a number of old Ontario road maps at an antique shop.

Q. Do you work for Ontario's Ministry of Transportation?
A. Yes, I work for the Ministry of Transportation as a Project Manager for Central Region's Highway Engineering Division, after graduating from Mohawk College's Transportation Engineering Technology Program (Honours) in 2009.

Q. Do you receive any special funding or grants for your website from the MTO or the Government of Ontario?
A. No, I personally cover all costs associated with this website.

Q. Running this website can't be cheap. Why not use banner or "pop-up" advertising to help pay for the costs associated with this website?
A. Frankly, I dislike any type of advertising on educational websites. I will not allow any kind of advertising on my website unless the rising costs of running the website dictate otherwise.

Q. How long has your website been online?
A. The website was officially unveiled in September 2002.

Q. Why bother making a website like this? After all, who really cares about old highways?
A. Apparently, quite a few people care. My website averages 1,100 visitors per day, which I feel is very respectable for a non-commercial website. In fact, about 400,000 people visited my website during 2007.

Q. When do you expect to have all of the pages on your website completed?
A. This project was an enormous undertaking for me. While I am putting in as many hours as my time permits, I am still at least one year away from having the website complete.

Q. How much time do you dedicate each week to maintaining this website?
A. It all depends on how much free time I have available to me. I try to put in as many hours as possible, but I can only fit in only 6-10 hours during a typical week.

Q. I seem to recall hearing you on the radio once. Do you participate in interviews regarding Ontario's Highway History?
A. Yes, I have participated in interviews on CBC Radio, in Cottage Life Magazine, and I was once a guest on CBC Television's "On The Road Again".

Q. I read on your website that you are writing a book. What is your book about, and when will it be published?
A. I am actually working on two books at the moment. My first book is a general overview of the history of Ontario's Highway System since 1917. The book will investigate the politics, economics and purpose behind the development of our highways, with an emphasis placed on historical and anecdotal accounts in addition to general facts and statistics. The book will contain approximately 175 photographs, including many which have never before been published. This book should be ready for publication later in 2011. My second book is a more specific chronicle of each individual King's Highway in Ontario, including photographs and interpretive guides. Work on this second book is still ongoing, so it will probably not be available until 2012.

Q. Have you really driven every mile of Ontario's Provincial Highway System?
A. Yes, I have driven every single provincially-owned highway in Ontario from end-to-end, including all of the downloaded highways that were transferred to municipalities in 1997-1998.

Q. How long did it take you to drive all of Ontario's Highways?
A. In 2001, I decided to systematically complete every mile of Ontario's Highways. I worked towards this goal for five years, before I finally completed my last highway link (Highway 600 at Rainy River) on September 3rd, 2006. It actually took me over 10 years to complete all of Ontario's Highways, as I had been out exploring the province ever since I first got my driver's license.

Q. Are you a professional photographer?
A. No, I am definitely not a professional photographer. However, I have been taking photos of roads long enough to know what conditions will make for a nice photo. I try to avoid taking any photos on hazy or overcast days, and I generally limit my photography "season" from May through October only. I also stop my car to take all of my photos, unless it is unsafe to do so. Highway photographs taken through the windshield always look inferior, so I avoid doing this wherever possible. The way I see it, if it is worth taking a photo in the first place, it is worth the minute or two it takes to pull over and stop the car.

Q. What type of camera do you use?
A. Most of my photos displayed on this website were taken using a Nikon Coolpix 4300 Series (4.3 Megapixel) Digital Camera, which I purchased in mid-2003. However, in December 2008, I purchased a Panasonic Lumix G1 Series (12.1 Megapixel) Digital Camera. In my opinion, the new camera takes highway photos that are much more vibrant and life-like. As the year progresses, I will be adding new photos to the website that were taken with my new camera.

Q. When did you start taking photographs of roads?
A. I started documenting Ontario's highway heritage around 1998.

Q. When did you start taking aerial photographs?
A. My first aerial photography run was in May 2004. Since that time, I have taken over 800 aerial photographs of Ontario's highways.

Q. How many photographs do you take when you are out on the road?
A. On a normal one-day road trip, I will take between 75 and 100 photos. During 2005, I took over 2,000 Ontario highway photographs, most of which will be posted online.

Q. Why do you take your photographs from the centre of the road? Doesn't that endanger yourself and others on the highway?
A. I always try to take my photographs from the highest point on the road, which in most cases is at the centre line. On a multi-lane road, the centre line can be almost a foot higher than the shoulder to allow for proper water drainage. Consequently, taking photos from the shoulder significantly distorts the view of the opposing traffic lanes. I love taking good quality highway photos, but frankly, I would rather not die doing it. There is an inherent risk involved in walking across any road, so I figure that it really isn't any more dangerous to pause for half a second while crossing the road to take a photo. When it comes to taking photos from the centre line, safety always comes first. I use my good judgment, and only take my photos when traffic volumes are very light. At no time do I ever put myself or anyone else in danger.

Q. I have a number of road photographs. Do you accept photo contributions to your website?
A. Generally speaking, I only accept historic photograph contributions to my website (photos dated 1990 and earlier). I have travelled extensively throughout the province over the past 10 years, and I now have an extensive collection of photographs of Ontario highways. I have introduced this policy to avoid website duplication of photos that I already have in my personal collection.

Q. May I use your images on my website?
A. That depends on the specific image that you were interested in, as I am NOT the copyright holder for many of the images displayed on this website. Please email me first for permission if you want to use any images from my website. If the images belong to me, then I will normally grant permission to display them on a non-commercial website providing that the source is fully acknowledged. However, if the images do not belong to me, then I will have to ask the proper copyright holder on your behalf.

Q. May I quote your website in my publication?
A. All textual portions of my website are copyrighted, but brief quotations are generally permissible, providing that you contact me first for permission and that the source is fully acknowledged. Please read my Terms of Use page or email me for more information on copyright.

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