In 1932, The first section of the highway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay (then it was separate cities Fort William and Port Arthur) to open was between the Manitoba town of Whitemouth and Kenora (back then it was three towns, Keewatin, Norman, and Rat Portage).
The last portion to be twinned in Manitoba is the 18 kilometer stretch in the southeast corner of the province around Falcon Lake Provincial Park (and Ontario is looking to twin the stretch from the Manitoba border to Kenora)
In 2020, there are plans to expand the Ontario portion of this highway to four-lanes, east of the Manitoba border to Kenora.
Much of the area south of Lake Winnipeg was swampy, and was subject to flooding by the Red, the Assiniboine and the Pembina rivers. Rains were easily absorbed by the heavy grass covering, released slowly back into the rivers. In 1950, the river flooded 10,000 buildings and left 100,000 people homeless.
Following the disastrous Flood of 1950 dykes were built along the rivers to protect Winnipeg from flooding, and the Winnipeg Floodway was built (from 1962 to 1968) to divert floodwater along a 48 kilometre channel around the eastern edge of the city of Winnipeg.
Longitudinal Centre of Canada
This point is about 29 km east of the city, and is marked by a nice sign at the side of the highway.
Shoal Lake/Falcon Lake
Since the Falcon River entering Shoal Lake drains a considerable area of muskeg, a dike was built in the lake to prevent brown, organics-laden water from being drawn into the aqueduct.with dual intake chambers and an intake level was well below the lake level. The Greater Winnipeg District Aqueduct is buried beside the railroad which crosses the Trans-Canada Highway, about 50 km west of the Ontario-MB boundary.
The Winnipeg Aqueduct was put in service in 1919, at a cost of $16 million. Built in the early years of the present century when the population of Winnipeg was about 100,000, this aqueduct is a measure of the foresight of those who planned It, for they envisioned it supplying a city of 500,000. The acqueduct extends approximately 96 miles (153 km) from an intake structures on Shoal Lake to three reservoirs and pumping stations in Winnipeg. Water flows by gravity from the lake, since the aqueduct drops about 300 feet (90 metres) over its length. It has a maximum capacity of 85 million gallons per day (200 million litres per day)
And despite the fact that its namesake lake is the source of Winnipeg’s drinking water, does not have clean drinking water for its First Nation residents. Recent protests on behalf of the residents have finally achieved some momentum with the provincial government, to provide access to Manitoba roads for the residents, via the Aqueduct’s dike, and also to build a modern water filtration system so the residents have clean drinking water
Falcon Lake is part of of Whiteshell Provincial Park, this is a highly developed tourist area, with a wide variety of facilities for camping, swimming, riding, hiking and boating. And in the winter time, downhill and cross-country skiing. There are many opportunities for the visitor to explore the area and study its ecology. Interpretive trails have been built around the park, to ensure that you derive the maximum benefit from your visit.
West Hawk Lake, just north of the highway, is the deepest lake in Manitoba, at over 120 metres. Unlike most other lakes in the area, which are of glacial origin, it is believed to have been created when a meteor plunged to earth. Lake trout, pickerel and walleye abound here.
Lake of the Woods
This lake, called Lake of the Islands by first nations people, contains over 14,000 islands and its 100,000 kilometres of shoreline create prime waters for walleye, pike smallmouth bass and lake trout. The lake has had a successful commercial fishery since 1885, though as a result, the original stocks of sturgeon and whitefish have become pretty well depleted.
So for our American visitors, this one lake has more islands than the state of Minnesota (“Land of 10,000 Lakes” according to the licence plates) has lakes! Across Ontario, there are over 250,000 lakes, and there are SEVEN named “Trout Lake” around the province.
You can travel along the eastern shore of this lake by travelling south on Highway 71, past Sioux Lookout to Fort Frances, and then east on Highway 11 to Thunder Bay.
Kenora is a city that amalgamated three towns in 1905: Keewatin , Norman, and Rat Portage. The community of Keewatin (Indian for “north”) and Rat Portage (named so by fur traders as the gateway to muskrat country of the north) merged to become Ke-No-Ra. In 2001, Kenora amalgamated with other unincorporated nearby communities.
This community sat on the major portage between Lake of The Woods and the Winnipeg River. South of town is a sawmill on McKenzie Portage Road, though the area’s forestry industry peaked over a century ago with the demand from railway construction. It is the major market centre for Lake of the Woods tourism and the area’s resource in industries.
The first Hudson’s Bay Company post was established in 1836 on Old Fort Island just north of here, but was moved to the mainland in 1861, where it became a centre of commercial activity for the community of Rat Portage. At McLeod Park you can see a plaque commemorating Rat Portage Post. With the coming of the railway in 1877, lumbering, mining, fishing and flour milling developed rapidly in the area.
17A is an important bypass route around Kenora and Keewatin, taking a high-standard limited-access two-lane 34 km route to the north of Kenora through a rugged Northern Ontario. The Kenora Bypass was constructed in numerous stages from west to east beginning in 1981. Though the first section opened to traffic in 1983, it did not form a complete loop until the final phase was completed in 1990. When the Kenora Bypass officially opened to traffic in 1990, the entire road was re-designated as Highway 17A, leaving the “local” route designed as Highway 17.
The Kenora Bypass is a very convenient through route (the speed limit is 90 km/h or 55 mph. for trucks and other heavy traffic, which previously had no other alternative but to drive right through Downtown Kenora. There are no services located on Highway 17A, so motorists requiring gasoline must exit the highway and head into Kenora and Keewatin.
East of town, where Highway 17 merges with the 17A Kenora Bypass, it connects with the northern terminus of Highway 71, which goes to Fort Frances/International Falls on the US border, before heading east to Thunder Bay as Highway 11.
In 1980 a devastating forest fire, known as Kenora-23, swept the area and extended over 30 km along the highway, from Highway 71 (the highway south to Sioux Narrows and Fort Frances) almost to George Lake. Over 2,000 firefighters were engaged in suppression activities, using aircraft and equipment supplied from all over Canada and the United States (they have reciprocal agreements to share people & equipment in times of need). On a single day, when the fire was at its peak, 123 aircraft were combating the blaze, thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes before the blaze was brought under control.
Fire has many beneficial effects on the forest ecosystem. It helps to provide suitable conditions for good germination and early seedling growth, for it exposes mineral soil, provides increased light, destroys compelling vegetation and releases nutrients. Some species, such as jack pine, depend on the heat from forest fires to open their cones and disseminate seed. By now the forest is getting mature, but travelers will still see burnt tree trunks along stretches of the Highway.