Ontario Trans-Canada Highway itineraries and towns
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North of Sault Ste Marie- Pancake Bay

Why Visit Ontario?

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, it has fast-paced urban areas in the South around the Golden Horseshoe, along the 401, and in the Ottawa Valley. These present great architecture, interesting history, great shopping, and a variety of dining experiences. It  has amazing natural areas, including the many shores of Lake Huron, the Kawartha, Muskoka, and Rideau cottages areas close to the cities, and then there’s the rugged North, defined as anything north of the French River (with Algonquin Park thrown in).

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Trans-Canada Main Route (#17)

Here is the route of the Trans-Canada Highway from east to west:

Parliament Hill in OttawaAfter crossing from Quebec, the highway winds up the fertile and wide Ottawa Valley until it reaches Ottawa, Canada’s capital. The highway from the Quebec border to Arnprior, just west of Ottawa is designated “highway 417” and is a divided highway, and in Ottawa it is also called the “Queensway”. Bicyclists must use Route 17 which is a 2-lane road which runs along the Ottawa River from Kanata to the Quebec border.

Ottawa was originally called “Bytown,” and located where the Ottawa River is joined by the Rideau and the Gatineau rivers, the city has many stone buildings dating back before Confederation (1867). Ottawa is the endpoint of the Rideau Canal, which was built by Colonel By (hence the city’s original name) which was built to provide access to Lake Ontario and Kingston for the British Navy away from US view along the St Lawrence. Today, the Rideau Canal is a mecca for small boaters.

Mattawa Railway Bridge, over Ottawa RiverThe Trans-Canada Highway continues up the Ottawa River along the original fur-trading route through pretty valley towns like ArnpriorPembroke and Petawawa, to Mattawa.

Lake Nipissing at North Bay
At Mattawa the highway ventures west through rugged and hilly Canadian Shield along a voyageur route, for the next 1640 km to Manitoba. North Bay, on the eastern end of beautiful Lake Nipissing, was important to early French fur traders, is ” where the Trans-Canada Highway splits.

The main route takes you west through Sudbury, which is the nickel capital of the world, because of its fortunate location at an ancient meteor crater.

Ottawa is the largest city on the Ontario portion of the Trans-Canada, with North Bay, SudburySault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay much smaller.

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Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior

The highway continues west along the North Channel above Manitoulin Island (the largest island in a lake in the world), to Sault Ste Marie (the “Soo”). Sault Ste Marie is a rare city, in that it has populations on both sides of the International border and locals tend to go over the bridge as if it was any other to take advantage of bar hours or shopping deals.

Terry Fox memorial, just east of Thunder Bay, along the TCH
From there, the Trans-Canada heads north through the Algoma wilderness, the scene of many Group of Seven paintings, and then at Wawa begins the route west along the northern shore of Lake Superior, one of Canada’s great drives, past company towns like Marathon and Terrace Bay. The “northern” route takes you through Hearst and most rugged portion of the Canadian Shield.

Kenora, view from Lake Of The Woods
The two routes link up at Thunder Bay, at the western end of Lake Superior and again at Kenora, in the middle of Ontario’s “Lake Country.” Both routes offer spectacular wilderness scenery, though you should pay strict attention to road conditions and “last gas” signs (gas stations, like towns, are every 60 to 100 miles). Exercise caution from Vermillion Bay west to Kenora because of its sharp curves and non-existent shoulders. ” watch out for “surprise” traffic lights in Thunder Bay and Kenora, if not taking the “bypass” expressway.

Is Toronto on the Trans-Canada?

Island Airport with City ViewContrary to popular belief, Canada’s largest city Toronto is NOT on the Trans-Canada, but is 80 miles (128 km) west of Peterborough, on the “southwest” route, which runs from Ottawa through Peterborough, which is the heart of Ontario’s “Cottage Country,” and then north through Parry Sound to Sudbury.

This Southern Route brushes past rugged Algonquin Provincial Park to the north and the Trent-Severn Canal and Kawartha Lakes cottage country to the south.

401 heading east at Night, at Keele StreetThe highway that runs through toronto is the 401 Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, which connects Detroit, Michigan & Windsor, Ontario with Toronto and the “Golden Horseshoe” region, and continues eastwards to Montreal (where the highway numbering changes) and on to Quebec City.

Fortunately, we have detailed itineraries to get travellers to Toronto, or Torontonians to the Trans-Canada! More about getting to the Trans-Canada Highway from Toronto, and lots of information for Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (“the GTA”)

Along the 401, the Macdonald Cartier Freeway (NOT the Trans-Canada!)

Highway 401 in Toronto, at Don Mills
This highway connects Detroit & Windsor (even better once the new Gordie Howe International Bridge is completed and opened) with industrial Central Ontario, and with Montreal and the Trans-Canada Highway east of that great port city. This highway was built in the mid 1960s

The Ontario heartland has a number of automotive manufacturing plants and assembly contractor, including Fiat Chrysler (BramptonWindsor), General Motors (Oshawa, Ingersoll), Ford (Oakville), Honda (Alliston), Toyota (Cambridge, Woodstock).Toronto itself is also head office to many of the country’s major banks and retail brands, and many other manufacturers. When it was amalgamated into a single city absorbed Etobicoke (to the west), Scarborough (to the east), and North York (to the north) which despite amalgamation — and decades after it — still have unique personalities, shopping, cultural and ethnic variations.

The Greater Toronto Area (or “GTA”) which encompasses Mississauga & Brampton to the city’s west (which is home to the city’s major airport) , York Region to the city’s north (extending up to Barrie), and Durham Region to the city’s east, clustered around Oshawa with communities cntnuing along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

The 401 continues east along Lake Ontario, with the Kawartha and Halliburton cottage areas, and continuing east along the north shore of Lake Ontario to pass by Trenton (home to CFB Trenton) and Belleville, with Quinte Island /Price Edward County and its wine country to the south of the 401, and continuing east to Kingston before passing the St Lawrence Seaway and several international bridges to New York State.

Trans-Canada Southern Route

Rideau Canal Locks with boats

While most people know the Trans-Canada does not actual goes through Toronto (that’s the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway  (also the 401), and wee have long covered  a drivers’ detour to/from Toronto  via the 401 from Montreal  and points east, and via 400 north to Barrie, Parry Sound and Sudbury (and points further west).

There is an officially designated “Southern Route”, which incorporates Highway 7 and 12 from Ottawa to Perth, Peterborough, and Orillia  (before turning north along the 400/69 to Parry Sound and Sudbury. This route is almost entirely a 2-lane highway, and touches on several parts of the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Trans-Canada Northern Route

Northern Ontario lake
This route follows Highway 11, the extension of Yonge Street, which starts at Toronto’s harbourfront and goes north to Barrie and North Bay, before crossing the Trans-Canada #17 Main Route and arcing across northern Ontario’s mining communities. What most people don;t realize was that #11 was completed before the #17, as a critical project during World War II, to give the US military access to key metals for plane, ship, and bomb construction, and access to uranium for its top-secret Manhattan Project.

From  North Bay, Highway  11 heads north to Temagami, Cobalt (named for the metal found there), Kirkland Lake (where it connects to Highway 117 into northern Quebec), Cochrane, Kapuskasing, Hearst, and Geraldton, before arcing south to Nipigon where it reconnects to the Trans-Canada main route, sharing a section from Nipigon to Thunder Bay.  At Thunder Bay, Highway 11 heads straight west (south of the main route) to Atikokan and key border town Fort Frances ( International Falls, Minnesota) where it connects to Highway 71 north to Kenora, back on the main route. Highway 11 continues west to Rainy River (on the border with Baudette, Minnesota) to complete its claim as “the longest street in the world” (making Yonge Street 1178 miles / 1895 kilometres long)

ontario Trans-Canada Highway Map:

Cities along the Trans-Canada HighwayCity

Town along the Trans-Canada HighwayTown

History of the Trans-Canada HighwayItinerary

Transcanada Highway HistoryHistory

Trans-Canada Highway FerriesFerry

Trans-Canada Highway Tours & DetoursTour

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