This route first had a road known as the Dawson Trail, dating back to 1871. To expedite settlement in the Red River Colony  the Government of Canada in 1857  commissioned engineer Simon J. Dawson to survey a route from Lake Superior to the Red River Colony. This route enabled settlers to  travel from the end of Lake Superior (at Fort William)  by land through Canadian territory  and not have to take any routes through the United States. Dawson surveyed the route in 1858 and construction began in 1868 and was completed in 1871,  and afterwards named after Dawson.

The Wolseley Expedition used the trail to quell the Red River Rebellion of 1870, even before the route was completed. This rebellion (for which its leader, Louis Riel, was hung) led to the establishment of the Province of Manitoba later that year. Several thousand settlers used the Dawson route, though many travelers used the American rail route to Duluth, and travelled by cart to Emerson. Much of the Dawson Trail was abandoned after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad between Fort William (now Thunder Bay) and Winnipeg in the 1880s. The roads continued to be used by local residents.

Kenora waterfont view from air

After the construction of the road from the Manitoba to Kenora, the next section in 1933 was a rough road connecting Kenora to Vermilion Bay, Dryden and Dyment (now Dinorwic). Working from the east, by 1932, construction was completed from Thunder Bay through Upsala to English River. All that remained was the 75 mi (121 km) gap between Dyment and English River which was cleared in 1934, but it took a further year of rock blasting and road construction to make that stretch navigable. To celebrate the completion, a convoy of trucks took two day to drive from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg (with an overnight in Kenora)

In 2016, the Little Firesteel River Bridge, west of Upsala was replaced

In 2020, there is the planned bridge replacements of the Winnipeg River East and West Bridges, and the Ritchie Road Overpass on Kenora Bypass, north of Kenora, as well as replacement of the CPR overhead bridge at Dinorwic Bridge

Junction Highway 17/71

The Precambrian shield’s rocks date back about 2.5 billion years, and were once sedimentary rocks formed at the bed of an ancient sea. The area also had a number of active volcanoes, which created what is known as the Kenoran Orogeny, with its violent folds combining volcanic rocks with sedimentary, creating immense granite batholiths, which today comprise about 60% of north western Ontario’s surface. Notice the outcrops of sedimentary rock, noted for its layers, right beside other outcrops of uneven volcanic rock

Vermillion Bay: Glacial Morraines

The last Ice Age soured the rocks in this region into very smoothly rounded shapes. When the glaciers – once over a mile deep in places – retreated, they dropped boulders, grave and sand that were carried in the ice. These morraines create a solid yet permeable base for farmland and forest. These area of good drainage are used to advantage today, for things like building Dryden’s airport.

About 8 km east of Vermillion Bay, the highway lies on glacial morraine that was part of the post-Ice Age Lake Agassiz. The forests of red pine and jack pine grow in abundance here, enjoying the good drainage. Red pine have 10-15 cm long dark green needles and have red bark. Jack pines are identified by their 2-5 cm long light green needles.

Dryden & Wabigon River

Just west of Dryden is the Wabigoon River, which flows west from Wabigoon Lake, which was once a very picturesque setting. The name Wabigoon means either “flowers that grow” or “lake of many feathers”.

Mercury pollution of the water as well as atmospheric pollution from the region’s pulp and paper mills have ruined water and soil quality in the area. In 1970, the natives in the nearby Grassy Narrows reserve have been ordered to stop eating locally caught fish, which have been a dietary mainstay for centuries. There is a concern they may suffer symptoms now know as Minimata Disease (for the Japanese fishing community which first cataloged the symptoms of severe mercury poisoning). The local sport fishery was also ordered closed by the Ontario government.

Dinorwic: Highway Rock Cuts

Rock cut in northern OntarioAround Dinorwic, you will pass through a series of rock cuts. During the past century, during the construction process for the Trans-Canada highway, that rock-cuts through hillsides were dynamited exposing layered cross-sections of a hundred million years of geological deposits.

These cuts provide a fascinating glimpse of the cataclysmic events that shaped North America, and often showcase brilliant colors in the rock layers from high concentration of minerals (especially in the sunshine after a rainstorm). Canada’s mineral production now amounts to nearly $23 billion annually (2016).

Mineral Production in Canada
Rock Cuts and gully fill for smoother/straighter highways illustration

Why are there rock cuts?

Rock cuts smooth the roadway, both vertically (by cutting through the tops of hills to reduce climbs) and horizontally (cutting into hillsides to create smoother turns, straighter “lines”).

These help to increase safe driving speeds, and also to reduce energy consumption for cars, freight-hauling trucks, and cyclists.

The rock blasted out of rock cuts is turned into gravel to level the roadbed, fill in valleys and low spots, and improve highway drainage.

Highway planners try to use the closes rock cuts to fill any low spots, and optimize the distance between the two, as opposed to trucking in gravel from more distant gravel pits.

Little Wabigoon River & Raleigh Falls

East of Dinorwic, is the Little Wabigoon River, which flows westerly from Raleigh Lake (south of the Highway) west into Wabigoon Lake. There is a logging bridge on the south side of the highway, which is a great spot to watch the over 200 bird species found in the area, of which 30 are here year-round. Most likely youwill see ravens and Canada jays (also known as “whiskey jacks”).

Just east of the Highway 622 junction, is the Little Wabigoon River and Raleigh Falls. Just south of the highway, this waterfall in the Little Wabigoon River, just hidden in the trees. The tree species that can be found in the area include black ash, balsam fir, black spruce and jack pine.

Trans Canada Highway Itinerary Map

Use mouse to drag/move map. Click on “+” or “” to zoom in or out. “Satellite” combines map & photo.