Following World War 1 discussion began of building a Canadian transcontinental highway. Federal funding was provided to the provinces, and some road construction was accomplished in the early 1920's. However, the building of such a highway was considered a luxury by some, and funding was soon halted. One significant road completed during this time was the Nipigon Highway betweeen Port Arthur and Nipigon. Also, a road was opened from Sault Ste Marie to Batchawana.
The 1930 map shows the Nipigon Highway and road to Batchawana.
Note: This map doesn't have the same north-south orientation as later maps. (The gridlines indicate north-south and east-west).
The beginning of the Great Depression in 1930 resulted in massive unemployment, and the federal government signed relief projects with the provinces. This enabled the government of Ontario to resume highway construction in northern regions of the province. The existing road between the Quebec boundary was designated as part of the Trans-Canada Highway, and by June 1931 planning was complete for an extension of this route from Sault Ste. Marie to the Manitoba boundary. Thousands of men, housed in temporary camps, were put to work building roads through the wilderness of Northern Ontario.
Priority was given to a road link between Pt.Arthur/Ft. William and Winnipeg and in 1935 this section was officially opened. At the same time, highway construction was underway east of Nipigon and by September 1937 was completed as far as Schreiber. North of Sault Ste. Marie, the highway was extended from Batchawana to the Montreal River.
However, the harsh conditions of the labour camps and the low wages paid to the workers led to labour unrest and organized strikes, and federal funding for the Trans-Canada Highway was withdrawn.
Construction crew near Kama, east of Nipigon, 1934
Motorcade arriving in Schreiber at the opening of Highway 17 from Nipigon, September 1937.
The 1940 map shows the new Nipigon - Schreiber highway and the Batchawana to Montreal River extension.
When World War II began, construction on Highway 17 was halted, and effort was concentrated on completing the less challenging Highway 11 route between Hearst and Geraldton. This section was opened in 1943, becoming the first highway link between Northwestern Ontario and the rest of the province. The only Highway 17 construction during the 1940's was a section between Schreiber and Terrace Bay, opened in 1947.
The 1950 map shows the completed Highway 11 Northern Route and the new section of Highway 17 between Schreiber and Terrace Bay.
The 1950's - Closing "The Gap"
In 1949 the federal government signed the Trans-Canada Highway Act, which provided up to a 90% subsidy to the provinces to complete their portions of the Trans-Canada Highway. By this time the long planned, but still unfinished 265 kilometer (165 mile), section of the Trans-Canada Highway between Terrace Bay and the Montreal River had been named, "The Gap". In the early 1950's work began in earnest to complete the highway and close the gap.
The rugged terrain along the Lake Superior shore presented a formidable challenge to the engineers and construction crews. Preparing the roadway required the blasting of over a million cubic meters of rock, the moving of millions of cubic meters of earth, and the building of 25 bridges.
Highway 17 construction near Marathon, ca 1951
Filling and grading underway near Terrace Bay, ca 1951
Ever since its founding in the early 20th century, the town of Wawa had been accessible only by train, boat or plane. By the 1950's the citizens were feeling neglected and they staged a protest rally.
A side note: During the 1950's there was a move to change the name of Wawa, (which is Ojibway for "wild goose"), to Jamestown, in honour of Sir James Hamet Dunn. Mr. Dunn was the owner of Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, which operated the Helen Mine - an iron ore mine which was Wawa's major employer. At the request of local residents, the name was changed back to Wawa. The 1950's maps show the change.
Motorists waiting for the opening of the Terrace Bay to Marathon section of Highway 17, 1953.
By 1954 the highway was open to Marathon at the north end of The Gap, and at the south end construction was underway between the Montreal and Agawa Rivers.
The following maps show the work completed by the end of the year prior ro the publication of each map.
1955: The highway is open to the Agawa River.
1956: Construction east of Marathon and north of the Agawa River. (Secondary Highway 614 from Hemlo north to Manitouwadge is shown).
|1957: The highway is open from Marathon to Hemlo. Construction underway through White River, north from Wawa, and, as far as the Baldhead River at the south end of The Gap||1958: Construction now underway along the entire route.|
1959: Open through White River, but with a ferry operating at the White Lake
narrows while a bridge is being completed, and at the south end open along
Agawa Bay as far as the Baldhead River.
|1960: The bridge at White Lake is open, a section of highway at Wawa is open, and The Gap is almost closed!
On September 17, 1960 the Trans-Canada Highway Lake Superior Route was declared officially open in a ribbon cutting ceremony at Wawa attended by Premier Leslie Frost, Federal Transport Minister George Hees, and Ontario Highway Minister Fred M. Cass. In the October 1960 Department of Highways newsletter the caption for the above photo read, "This photo does not convey the size of the crowd, estimated in the thousands, that watched and then cheered as the ribbons were cut to open the new highway".
The 1961 map shows the Trans-Canada Highway symbols, with Highway 17 named as the Lake Superior Route, and Highway 11 as the Northern Route.
Two travellers posing by a TCH Lake Superior Route sign, circa 1960
A lookout above the Trans-Canada Highway near Wawa, circa 1961
When the Trans-Canada Highway was built it bypassed the town of Wawa by about one mile, and business owners were interested in enticing motorists to turn off the highway and visit the town. A local entrepeneur came up with the idea of erecting a giant statue of a wild goose at the junction of the highway and the road leading into town. (Wawa means "Wild Goose" in Ojibway). The original goose, which was constructed of wire mesh and plaster, soon began to deteriorate from exposure to the elements. In 1963 it was replaced with one made of steel from local iron ore mines. The Wawa Goose became one of Canada's most recognizable highway landmarks.