List of Ontario colonization roads

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Road signs marking the Opeongo Road

The Colonization Roads were roads created during the 1840s and 1850s to open up or provide access to areas in Central and Eastern Ontario for settlement and agricultural development. The colonization roads were used by settlers, much like modern-day highways, to lead them towards areas for settlement.


During the early-1800s, the government of Upper Canada, a majority of which is now Ontario, appropriated settlers to various lots which had been surveyed along the lake shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The townships established along these fronts contained generally fertile land composed of glacial till and clay-rich loam. As these townships filled up, business opportunities presented themselves for investors to purchase native lands and open them to settlement. The Canada Company was the most successful of these ventures, and attracted settlers to vast areas of land in Western Ontario by building routes such as the Huron Road and the Toronto–Sydenham Road during the 1830s and 1840s.[1] As these areas too filled, the government came under pressure to open up the unforgiving terrain of the Canadian Shield to settlement, and sought to establish a network of east–west and north–south roads between the Ottawa Valley and Georgian Bay. This area was known as the Ottawa–Huron Tract.[2]

In 1847, an exploration survey was carried out by Robert Bell to lay out the lines that would become the Opeongo Road, Hastings Road and Addington Road. The Public Lands Act, passed in 1853, permitted the granting of land to settlers who were at least 18. Those settlers who cleared at least 12 acres (49,000 m2) within four years, built a house within a year and resided on the grant for at least five years would receive the title to that land. The government subsequently built over 1,600 kilometres (1,000 mi) of roads over the following 20 years to provide access to these grants.[3]

However, the promises of fertile land in this new northern tract of wilderness proved false. Beneath thin layers of sparsely spread soil was solid granite. Where this granite descended deeper, valleys formed and filled with muskeg. Despite an early influx of settlers, the vast majority of grants were abandoned by the turn of the century; only 40% remained. During the first half of the 1900s, many of these colonization roads were incorporated into the growing provincial highway network. Some sections were improved to modern highway standards, while others were subsequently bypassed or abandoned. The roads that were not incorporated as highways either became local roads or were consumed by nature.[4]

Though many other roads in the province can be considered "colonization roads", such as Yonge Street, Hurontario Street, the Provincial Road, (later Highway 2), the Talbot Trail (Highway 3), the Garafraxa Road (Highway 6) and the Penetanguishene Road (Highway 93), they were either constructed for military purposes, or by private investment.

In January 2017, CBC Television's Firsthand program aired a documentary film, titled Colonization Road, about these roads.[5]


The terrain these roads pass through is interlaced with many hills, lakes, forests, swamps and bedrock outcroppings. The location of many of these roads is in the Canadian Shield, among the most rugged terrain in all of Ontario. The soil is generally thin and unsuitable for the agricultural development that these roads were built to spur.

Most of the colonization roads are not provincially maintained highways. Instead they follow county roads, and local town/township roads. A few have even been converted into hiking trails and bike trails.

List of Colonization Roads[edit]

Below is a list of all the colonization roads.

The Addington Road was surveyed as far north as the Opeongo Line in Brudenell

Addington Road[edit]

The Addington Road
Location ClareviewBrudenell
Length 113 km (70 mi)
Formed 1855–1865

The Addington Colonization Road was one of the initial routes surveyed in 1847. The contract to construct the road was awarded to A. B. Perry, who completed more than half of the length from the Clare River to the Opeongo Line by 1856.[6] In the south it began in the village of Clareview and travelled north to the Opeongo Line, where the village of Brudenell was established. From north of Clareview to the community of Ferguson Corners (southwest of Denbigh), Highway 41 follows the old road, though in many places bypasses have been constructed and the old road named Addington Road followed by a number from one to eight. North of Ferguson Corners, the old road has been consumed by the forest, though short spurs are evident west of Denbigh and north and south of Quadeville.

The Bobcaygeon Road near the old Peterson Road, west of Carnarvon

Bobcaygeon Road[edit]

The Bobcaygeon Road
Location BobcaygeonDorset
Length 89 km (55 mi)
Formed 1856–1863

The Bobcaygeon Colonization Road opened up the northern half of Peterborough and Victoria counties and much of Haliburton County. The road begins in the village of Bobcaygeon and travels north through Minden, ending north of the old Peterson Road (Highway 118). The old road was surveyed as far north as the Oxtongue river, but never improved beyond that. It now forms the boundary between Minden and Algonquin Highlands and further north the boundary between Muskoka and Haliburton. The former Highway 649 and Highway 121 were eventually assigned along the majority of the southern half of this road. From Minden north to Highway 118 the road is a paved township road. Between Ox Narrows and Dorset, Highway 35 generally follows the original survey line.

Buckhorn Road[edit]

The Buckhorn Road
Location BuckhornGooderham
Length 48 km (30 mi)
Formed 1855–1865

Buckhorn Road begins just north of Peterborough at Lakefield Road. From Peterborough to the town of Buckhorn, Buckhorn Road is referred to as Highway 23 and is still labelled as Buckhorn Road at many intersections. North of Buckhorn, the road is no longer listed as Buckhorn Road, but rather Highway 36 until Flynn's Turn. From there, Highway 507 is Buckhorn Road until it reaches the town of Gooderham. Slightly west of Gooderham, the old colonization road continues via Highway 3, also known as Glamorgan Road, until Highway 118 just outside Haliburton.

Burleigh Road[edit]

The Burleigh Road
Location Burleigh FallsCardiff
Length 0 km (0 mi)
Formed 1850's

Burleigh Road begins in Burleigh Falls and continues north along Highway 28. It passes through Apsley and by-passes the town. However, inside the town is the old colonization road and is named Burleigh Street. At Dyno Road, known as Haliburton County Road 48, it stops going towards Cardiff and follows the small road north until meeting Highway 118. Form there, the original road jogs east and continues north on Loop Road, known as Highway 648 towards Harcourt. At Harcourt, the road follows Elephant Lake Road, also known as Highway 10, northbound until meeting Peterson Road.

Cameron Road[edit]

The Cameron Road
Location RosedaleMinden
Formed 1850s

The Cameron Road travelled north from Rosedale to Minden and is now the route of Highway 35.

Frontenac Road[edit]

The Fronenac Road travelled north from Kingston to the Madawaska River at Matawatchan.

The road was first surveyed in 1852 and 1853 by Provincial Land Surveyor Thomas Fraser Gibbs. Warren Godfrey (for whom a town along the road is named) oversaw construction, completing the road as far north as the Mississippi Road at Plevna via Parham, Mountain Grove and Ardoch, completing the task by 1862. An extension northwest to the Madawaska River at Matawatchan was completed by 1869.[7] However, much of this section has been lost to the forest.

Garafraxa Road[edit]

Garafraxa Road
Location GuelphOwen Sound
Formed 1837–1848

The Garafraxa Road was built to extend the Brock Road north from Guelph to the new settlement of Sydenham, renamed Owen Sound in 1851, on Georgian Bay. An Order-in-Council was passed calling for the building of this road on April 13, 1837. Deputy Surveyor Charles Rankin was given free rein to lay a line between Oakville and Sydenham. Rankin surveyed the line north of Arthur before the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion broke out in Toronto. In 1839, John McDonald was hired to resurvey the line. He completed the survey between Guelph and Fergus that year, and to Arthur by October 1842.[8] Construction of the line between Arthur and Sydenham began at both ends in 1843.[9] The entire route was navigable by 1848. By 1861, the majority had been graveled, and tollgates briefly established between Fergus and Owen Sound. The entire route became part of Highway 6 in 1920.[8]

Great North Road[edit]

The Great North Road
Location Parry SoundCommanda
Length 97 km (60 mi)
Formed 1867–1871

The Great North Road connected the Parry Sound Road in Parry Sound with the Nipissing Road in Commanda. Today, Highway 124 largely follows the old road.[10]

Hastings Road[edit]

The Hastings Road
Location MadocWhitney
Length 113 km (70 mi)
Formed 1854–1858

The Hastings Road was surveyed and built to the northern boundary of Hastings county, north of the hamlet of Lake St. Peter. It was continued north into the District of Nipissing under the name of "the north road" and at one time could be driven to an intersection with the current Highway 60 between Whitney and Madawaska. At one time it intersected with the Snow, Monck and Peterson roads.[11]

Lavant Road[edit]

The Lavant Road
Location Snow RoadLanark Road

Mississippi Road[edit]

The Mississippi Road
Location PlevnaBancroft
Length 98 km (61 mi)
Formed 1856–1866

The Mississippi Road began at a junction with Frontenac Road and Snow Road in the village of Plevna and travelled northwest, bisecting the Addington Road near Denbigh. It ended at the Hastings Road in Bancroft, where the Monck Road continued west. Today, Brule Lake Road and Buckshot Lake Road (Lennox and Addington County Road 30) follow a majority of the southwest portion of the road. Between Denbigh and Bancroft, Highway 28 travels adjacent to the old road, which has generally been consumed by the forest.

Monck Road[edit]

The Monck Road
Location AtherleyBancroft
Length 172 km (107 mi)
Formed 1866–1873

With the dual purpose of establishing a colonization and military route east from Lake Couchiching to the junction of the Hastings and Mississippi colonization roads at what is now Bancroft, the Monck Road was surveyed through 1864 and 1865. Construction began the following year and was completed seven years later in 1873. It was named in honour of Charles Stanley Monck, who was Governor General of Canada at that time.[12]

Muskoka Road[edit]

The Muskoka Road
Location Severn BridgeNorth Bay
Length 203 km (126 mi)
Formed 1858–1875

The Muskoka Road, most of which now forms Highway 11, was constructed in the late 1850s and early 1860s, quickly becoming the primary trunk road to Lake Nipissing. A series of towns eventually would flourish along its length, but the first of these was Bracebridge. East of Muskoka Falls, Thomas J. McMurray established a 400-acre (1,600,000 m2) townsite in the spring of 1861 at the intersection of the Muskoka Road and Peterson Road.[13]

Construction on the Muskoka Road began in 1858. At the time of Bracebridge's founding, the road did not extend beyond the Muskoka River.[13] It was opened as far as Sundridge by 1875. Today Highway 11 follows a majority of the route, but bypasses it in several locations, notably between Bracebridge and Huntsville.

Nipissing Road[edit]

The Nipissing Road
Location RosseauNipissing
Length 111 km (69 mi)
Formed 1864–1875


Old farm along the Opeongo Line

Ottawa and Opeongo Road[edit]

The Ottawa and Opeongo Road
Location Opeongo LakeRenfrew
Length 106 km (66 mi)
Formed 1854–1865

The Ottawa and Opeongo Road (also known as Opeongo Line) was one of the initial colonization roads surveyed by Hamlet Burritt and A.H. Sims under the supervision of Robert Bell in 1851-52. It was constructed westward from Renfrew beginning in 1854, reaching as far as the Hastings Road in Whitney by 1865; thereafter the survey line continued to Opeongo Lake.[15] Today, Highway 60 follows the old road between Algonquin Park and east of Barry's Bay. At that point, the road branches out to the southeast, following portions of Renfrew County Road 66, 512 and 64. Approximately 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) west of Dacre, it encounters Highway 41. From there to Renfrew, Highway 132 follows the old road.[16] Several songs have been written about the Opeongo Line, one of the most recent by Canadian singer-songwriter Terry McLeish. His song, "The Opeongo Line", has been included in several musicals and in a tourist CD production of this historic road.

Parry Sound[edit]

The Parry Sound Road
Location Parry SoundFalkenburg Station
Length 72 km (45 mi)
Formed 1862–1865

| Horseshoe Lake Road, Highway 141, Raymond Road, Manitoba Street | Highway 400/Highway 69, Highway 141, Muskoka District Road 35, Muskoka District Road 4 | Parry Sound | Bracebridge | Parry Sound
Horseshoe Lake

Pembroke and Mattawan Road[edit]

The Pembroke and Mattawan Road
Location PembrokeMattawa
Length 158 km (98 mi)
Formed 1856–1866

The Pembroke and Mattawan road was proposed by the Minister of Agriculture Allan McNab in 1852. A survey was conducted in 1853 and construction began in 1854. By 1875 the road was officially open in summer months all the way from Pembroke to Mattawa. That original road went through what is now CFB Pettawa and the Atomic Energy lands north of the town of Chalk River. It followed what is now the Balmer Bay road east of the town of Deep River. West of Deep River the old road winds back and forth across Highway 17, which was built in the 1930s.[17]

Peterson Road[edit]

The Peterson Road
Location BracebridgeBarry's Bay
Length 164 km (102 mi)
Formed 1858–1863

The Peterson Road began in Bracebridge and travelled east to Maynooth, where it met the Hastings Road. From Maynooth, its snaked its way northeast to Barry's Bay to meet the Opeongo Line. It was surveyed by Joseph Peterson and built between 1858 and 1863 at a cost of around $39,000. Poor soil led to little settlement in the area and some sections were already overgrown by the 1870s, but the Maynooth-Combermere section proved to be a useful logging route.

Today, the section from Bracebridge to Maynooth has mostly been consumed by the forest, though Highway 118 follows adjacent to the old road as far as Haliburton.[18] A small section remains as a local township road, east of Carnarvon, named Tulip Road. Between Haliburton and Kennaway, on the shores of Elephant Lake, the old road is untraceable. East of Kenneway, the road is locally maintained but accessible. The section from Maynooth to Combermere and on to Barry's Bay is now the route of former Highway 62.

Highway 509 in Plevna, the junction of the Mississippi Road, Frontenac Road and Snow Road

Snow Road[edit]

The Snow Road
Location MaberlyPlevna

The Snow Road is a short minor branch of the colonization road network that connected the northern end of agricultural settlement in Maberly with the southeastern end of the Mississippi Road in Plevna. The Lavant Road branches off to the east at approximately the midpoint of the road. Today, County Road 36 follows the Snow Road through Lanark County, while the former Highway 509 follows the portion lying within Frontenac County.

North of the Head River, Kawartha Lakes 35 enters the Canadian Shield

Victoria Road[edit]

The Victoria Road
Location GlenarmVankoughnet

Victoria Road is one of several colonization roads in southern Ontario built in the 1850s to promote settlement in what was then the frontier of Ontario. The road continued north of its current terminus in Uphill into what is now the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park. It then followed the Black River north-east to the Peterson Road in Vankoughnet; this part of the road fell into disuse in the late 1800s. Between 1956 and 1998, the portion of The Victoria Road between Highway 46 (Highway 48 after 1975) and Highway 503 was designated as Secondary Highway 505. On January 1, 1998, the entire road south of Uphill was designated as Victoria County Road 35. Victoria County was restructured as the city Kawartha Lakes on January 1, 2001, which renamed the road as Kawartha Lakes Road 35.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shragge 1984, pp. 31, 40.
  2. ^ Shragge 1984, p. 17.
  3. ^ Shragge 1984, pp. 17–19.
  4. ^ Shragge 1984, p. 21.
  5. ^ Dargicevic, Nina (January 26, 2017). "The Documentary 'Colonization Road' Is About Real, Actual Roads". CBC Television. Retrieved March 29, 2017. 
  6. ^ Country Road Maps - Mazinaw Country
  7. ^ Frontenac Road Historical Plaque
  8. ^ a b Hutchinson, Jean F (1998). The History of Wellington County. Landsborough Printing Ltd. p. 12. 
  9. ^ Hutchinson, Jean F (1998). The History of Wellington County. Landsborough Printing Ltd. p. 423. 
  10. ^ Shragge 1984, p. 20.
  11. ^ Miller 1978, pp. 93-95, maps.
  12. ^ Monck Road Historical Plaque
  13. ^ a b Parry Sound: Gateway to Northern Ontario. p. 47
  14. ^ Ontario Plaque
  15. ^ Miller 1978, pp. 77-84, maps.
  16. ^ Shragge 1984, pp. 18, 20.
  17. ^ Mercer, Jennifer (1998). Staying the Run - A History of the Unified Townships of Rolph, Buchannan, Wylie and McKay. Pembroke Ontario: The Rolph, Buchannan, Wylie and McKay Historical Society. pp. 33–36. ISBN 0-9683918-0-X. 
  18. ^ Miller 1978, pp. 92-93, maps.
  • Shragge, John; Bagnato, Sharon (1984). From Footpaths to Freeways. Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Historical Committee. ISBN 0-7743-9388-2. 
  • Miller, Marilyn G.; Bucovetsky, Joe; Sisam, Elizabeth (1978). Straight lines in curved space : colonization roads in eastern Ontario. Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation, Historical Planning and Research Branch. ISBN 0-7743-2978-5.