Categories
Roads Toronto

Signs of the times

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Electronic sign on the Don Valley Parkway

I had access to a car yesterday, so I drove to a suburban supermarket to stock up on some large and bulky items we needed — things such as laundry detergent — to get through the next few weeks of physical distancing. Normally, I’ll walk to the nearest supermarket, only a few minutes away, but this way, I could get a lot done at once.

Though many shelves remain empty (pasta, rice, paper towels, and toilet paper remain in short supply), and cashier lines long (with tape marking where customers should wait, minimizing close contact), the mood remains friendly and polite among shoppers and staff alike. This is certainly a bright point in these difficult times.

IMG_6324Empty shelves at the supermarket

While running these essential errands, I took a GoPro camera, and mounted it to the front of the dashboard. It made for a very interesting view of the Gardiner Expressway at mid-morning, when the elevated highway is usually congested. When built, the Gardiner passed by rail yards, factories, and warehouses, south of the Downtown Core. Now the roadway runs between tall office and residential towers, with more being built all the time.

When it’s free-flowing, the Gardiner makes for a visually fascinating drive.

Categories
History Infrastructure Maps Ontario Roads

One hundred years of Ontario’s provincial highways

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On February 26, 1920, Ontario’s provincial highway network was born. That year, 16 highways were established across southern Ontario, between the Ottawa and Detroit Rivers. These highways, previously maintained by townships and counties, connected the province’s largest cities and provided important links to Quebec and the United States.

In 1925, these highways were assigned numbers 2 through 17, in rough order from west to east. There was no Highway 13; instead, the Port Hope-Peterborough Highway was assigned Route 12A. Highway 2, alternatively known as the Trans-Provincial Highway, extended from Windsor to the west to the Quebec border in the east, continuing eastwards as Quebec Highway 2. (That province renumbered its entire highway system in the 1960s and 1970s.) Meanwhile, Highway 15, connecting Kingston and Ottawa, took a deviating “S” shaped route via Perth. Highway 7 only went as far east as Brampton. While the province used triangular highway markers at the time, in 1930, they were renamed “King’s Highways” and assigned crowned highway shields still in use today.

The map below illustrates the highway system at the time.

1920OntarioOntario Provincial Highways, 1925 (click for larger version)

Several of Ontario’s first highways no longer exist. Highway 12A was later renumbered to Highway 28; that first section was later downloaded to Northumberland and Peterborough Counties. The first section of Highway 14, which originally ran between Foxboro and Picton via Belleville, was later integrated with the longer and more important Highway 62. The short stub of Highway 14 between Foxboro and Marmora was also downloaded in the 1990s.

But Highway 11, formed out of Yonge Street and the Barrie-Muskoka Highway, eventually became the province’s longest and one of its most famous highways (even if it never was the world’s longest street). To mark the occasion, I wrote about Highway 11’s history for TVO. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Ontario’s highways, nearly 100 years of digitized provincial road maps are available on the Archives of Ontario website. I also suggest visiting The King’s Highway website, which contains histories and photographs for most of Ontario’s highways.

Categories
History Roads

The road to Paris and London

Sign with the distance to Paris and London OntarioDistance Sign on Highway 5, Clappison’s Corners

Early European settlers to Ontario were not very imaginative when they came up with local place names. Although some towns and townships have First Nations names (Toronto, Chinguacousy, Niagara), or named for First Nations leaders allied with the British (Tecumseh, Brant), most cities, towns, and townships were given the names of European settlements, British royals and nobility, or the names of those settlers.

The list of Ontario towns and cities includes no less than ten world capitals: Athens, Brussels, Delhi, Dublin, London, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, Wellington, and Zurich. Other towns and cities across the province include the names of British royalty and nobility (Cobourg, Hanover, Port Arthur, Fort William, Richmond Hill) or the towns settler arrived from. These towns can be found throughout the province.

At Clappison’s Corners, a busy intersection outside of Hamilton, Paris and London appear on the same sign, amusing the occasional visitor. By driving west on Highway 5, Paris is just 42 kilometres away, with London an additional 80 kilometres’ drive via Highway 2.

The other Covent Garden Market, London, OntarioThe other Covent Garden Market, London

London was named for the British city in 1793, and was chosen as the site of the new capital of Upper Canada by governor John Graves Simcoe. He felt that the interior location, on the banks of the Thames River (Simcoe named that, too), would be safe from American attack. However, York (now Toronto), became the capital. But London became the regional centre for Western Ontario, and is now the world’s second-largest London with over 350,000 residents.

Paris OntarioParis, Ontario’s main street backs onto the Grand River

Paris was named in the 1840s not for the French capital, but for the large gypsum deposits in the area, used to make plaster of Paris. In 2000, the town of Paris was amalgamated with rural Brant County. The community has a population of just 12,000, the third-largest Paris (between Paris, Texas and Paris, Tennessee).

Before the provincial government downloaded thousands of highways to local municipalities in the late 1990s, Highway 5 ran from Highway 2 (Kingston Road) in Scarborough to Highway 2 again at Paris. At Paris, a motorist could continue on Highway 2 west to London and beyond. New freeways, such as Highway 403, offered a faster trip, while local roads, such as Highways 2 and 5, were downloaded as a cost-cutting measure. Today, Highway 5 runs for just 13 kilometres connecting Highways 6 and 8.

Today, the route to Paris and London is merely an anachronism of an earlier time, when King’s Highways covered the province and when motorists passed through many small towns on their way to places like Toronto, Detroit, and Montreal. At some point, the sign at Clappison’s Corners will be removed to make way for a new interchange. Until then, this humble monument to European settlement and rural King’s Highways will stand guard.

Categories
Ontario Roads

The north needs roads

IMG_2905.JPGNipigon River Bridge, August 2019

In January 2016, a bridge over the Nipigon River failed. Located roughly 100 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, it formed part of the Trans-Canada Highway. The only east-west link between Western and Eastern Canada was severed, with the only detour through the United States.

Climate change, road safety, and access to remote First Nations communities are some of the unique challenges facing Northern Ontario, where highways are especially important. Though highways fall under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has a role in funding infrastructure and economic development.

I examine these issues in more detail in my latest article on TVO’s website.

Categories
Toronto

The beauty of the expressway and Toronto’s accidental gateway

IMG_8568-001Highway 427 looking south from Burnhamthorpe Road

On a recent walk with a group of friends and acquaintances, I had the opportunity to explore a bit of Etobicoke. We walked from Kipling Station to a pub near the West Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road, passing by an abandoned dead mall, cutting through another mall, Cloverdale, with its sad, emptying Target that was just a few weeks before closing (along with the rest of Target’s ill-fated Canadian stores).

Honeydale was built in the early 1970s, a rather small mall anchored by a Woolco and a grocery store. The grocery store became a No Frills, while Woolco was acquired by Wal-Mart in 1994. Most Woolco stores were converted to Wal-Marts, but the US-based giant soon expanded or built replacement stores to its own specifications, leaving behind many vacancies in older malls and plazas. With the loss of Wal-Mart, the mall survived only because the only entrance to the busy No Frills store was within the mall. Once No Frills closed, Honeydale lost its purpose and shut down. Like the Canadian Tire property down the street (the oddly named Kip District development), I expect that the mall, Toronto’s only bona-fide dead mall, will soon be razed and that condos will eventually take its place.

Unlike Honeydale, Cloverdale, a somewhat larger mall that boasts few vacancies, will most likely survive Target’s retreat from Canada.

Honeydale Mall
The vacant Honeydale Mall

But the most interesting takeaway, in my opinion, is reflected in a photograph I took on the Burnhamthorpe Road bridge over Highway 427, the first photo in this post.

There is a complicated beauty to freeways; corridors that we usually experience either at speeds of over 100 kilometres an hour, or stuck behind other cars and trucks in frustrating traffic jams. But from a perch over top, such as on an overpass, one can appreciate the landscape. And see the gateway to Toronto, guarded by tall towers on either side.

Sheraz Khan wrote about this “accidental city gate” in Spacing Toronto in November 2013. He wrote that “…the road to Toronto tells a story about our city. Through the concrete, the wires, the bricks and tangled roads, gleams our new gate. It is a structure that begins to (perhaps accidentally) emphasize Toronto’s wishes of grandeur.”

Coming from the airport down Highway 427, arriving in Toronto for the first (or the 500th) time, by car or by bus, one can experience this unplanned, and apt, entry to the city. A city of concrete, glass and steel, a city that is continually growing to accommodate its many newcomers. A city as defined by its suburbs as its downtown.