Sunday, November 20, 2011

The QEW Looked A Whole Lot Different in 1939

The QEW started out as a much smaller highway called the Middle Road. It was built as a government works project during the Great Depression, connecting Toronto to Hamilton as an alternative between Lake Shore and Dundas, which were getting clogged with traffic. Not long after it was built, it was expanded and extended all the way to Niagara Falls, becoming Queen Elizabeth Way. It was modeled on the autobahns in Germany, the first of its kind in North America, with the longest uninterrupted stretch of streetlamps in the world. The stuttering King George VI was here to officially open it with his wife, Elizabeth, who it was named after. (You might know her better as the Queen Mum, or Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech.)

This photo was taken in Etobicoke around the time the highway officially opened. It shows the interchange with what's now Highway 427. Today, this spot is a tangle of concrete ramps in the midst of a big box wasteland just west of Kipling, not far from Sherway Gardens.

Here some more old photos of the highway, mostly found here and here.

The rural road in the days before the QEW
The royal opening ceremonies in St. Catherines, 1939
King George VI and Elizabeth on the QEW, 1939
The entrance to the QEW in Toronto, 1940
East of Oakville, 1938
Fruit trees in spring, Grimsby, 1949


  1. IN fact, there was a traffic circle outside Hamilton in the early sixties. A traffic circle on a high speed thruway???!?!!!?!?!

  2. yes i was terrified to go round tht circle,my husband(now) rolled his car onthat circle

  3. As I recall, there were 21 level crossing sideroads between the traffic circle and St. Catharines. Cars would drive across 2 lanes when there was a break in traffic, stop in the median, then merge with traffic in the opposite 2 lanes! Suicidal scary!

  4. Until the 1960s there was a certain love-affair with the highway. Often it was seen as a Parkway and people would pull over and picnic at the side of the road (e.g. at Jordan Harbour in the Town of Lincoln) or admire the blossoms in the extensive peach and cherry orchards alongside the QEW in Niagara. It was also a local road as there were no accompanying service roads; imagine school buses dropping off kids on the soft shoulder. In Niagara Falls the inter-urban street-car line crossed the QEW at grade (it didn't in St. Catharines). The love-affair, however, did not extend to the at-grade bridge crossings of Hamilton Harbour and the Welland Canal where summer traffic would be seriously backed up by local pleasure craft as much as lakers and ocean-going vessels. As for the traffic circles in Hamilton and Niagara Falls, I never knew whether to laugh or cry when I watched the uninitiated ahead of me make their moves!

  5. I remember the traffic circles very well - strange but in those times we didn't seem to mind it as much. With today's traffic could you imagine living in St. Catharines and working in Toronto?

  6. The lamps on the picture that says "entrance to QEW in Toronto" are in use in Oakville now at Bronte bridge in Oakville

  7. In the 1960s, one thing I remember all the "ghost" gas stations which were forced out of business when the QEW became more (but not completely) controlled access. There was a really cool one (Cities Service) on the northeast corner of QEW and 3rd Line (no interchange then).
    When the Burlington Skyway opened in 1958, it was a toll bridge. My dad had a little plastic dispenser for tokens that had a magnet on the bottom so that it would stick to his metal dash. Can you imagine the tie-ups if you had to stop and pay a toll today??