On our website, we get countless emails from people in the Toronto area who ask us about the Trans-Canada Highway, mis-guidedly assuming the Trans-Canada goes through Toronto. This mistaken impression was further fed by an inaccurate 1989 National Geographic book on the topic which included a photo of the CN Tower in its Ontario chapter, though it is not visible from any point along the highway (and vice-versa).
For them, we provide this backgrounder for Southern Ontarians.
Trans-Canada routes through Ontario
The Trans-Canada in Ontario follows three routes:
The Northern Route which moves along #17/11 from Thunder Bay to Nipigon and and then takes the #11 in an arching route northwards through the province’s mining communities including Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Kirkland Lake, and Cobalt.
In Ontario, this route returns to the southern part of the province at North Bay (and continues to Toronto (where Highway 11 becomes Yonge Street), though not as part of the Trans-Canada. In Quebec, the highway continues eastward from Kirkland Lake, ON as #117 through the mining communities communities of Noranda and Val d’Or before moving south to Montreal.
The Central Route, described earlier, traverses along the #17 fromThunder Bayto Sault Ste Marie and following the voyageur route through Sudbury, North Bay, and Mattawa where the highway bends southeast along the Ottawa River (as the highway becomes #417) through Ottawa down to Montreal.
The route then switches to Highway 12 along the Trent-Severn Waterway to Peterborough, and bends eastward along the #7 toward Ottawa, where it rejoins the main Trans-Canada route, continuing eastward toward Montreal.
The closest the Southern route gets to Toronto is 88 kilometres, where the point southeast of Lake Simcoe is closest to Toronto’s eastern boundary, via Oshawa. Interestingly, Highway 7 is also an excellent alternative route between Toronto and Ottawa, with similar driving time.
If you are heading west, toward the Rockies and Vancouver, you will need to get from Toronto to Sudbury, where you can connect to the main Trans-Canada route. From Toronto you take Highway 400 north to Barrie and Orillia (here the #11 continues north to North Bay and beyond) and continues north to Parry Sound to Sudbury.
The highway passes through York Region, past Kleinberg (home to the McMichael collection of Group of Seven paintings) and Bradford (with the Holland Marsh), up to Barrie up to “cottage country”. Just to the west of this route are Collingwood, Penetanguishene, and Midland. To the east of the highway is Orillia.
Along the way, roughly near Parry Sound the 4 lane divided highway reverts to the original 2-lane (undivided) highway which is designated Highway 69. Highway 69 is being upgraded into a 4-lane divided highway to make it easier for Torontonians and truckers to connect to the rest of the country. The Ontario government is twinning the northern stretches and has now proceeded as far north as the Parry Sound area. As the highway stretches are upgraded northwards they become re-designated as part of Highway 400.
Bruce Peninsula – Manitoulin Island Detour
If you want to take a more leisurely route, you can head west from Barrie along route 26 past Collingwood and Blue Mountain along the southern shore of Georgian Bay, past Wasaga Beach and Owen Sound, and then Route 6 up the Bruce Peninsula, catching the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island.
Manitoulin Island is not only the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world, but it also has the largest lake on an island inside a lake in the world, too! From South Baymouth, you head north to Espanola (66 km west of Sudbury) to connect to the Trans-Canada. This detour is also the one recommended by the Canadian Cycling Association for those bicycling across the country in order to bypass the heavily-trafficked route favoured by truckers.
Muskokas – Highway 11 Detour
Another scenic route is north-east of Barrie through Orillia on the Trent-Severn Canal, and then north on Highway 11 (and extension of Toronto’s Yonge Street!) though the Muskoka towns of Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, and Huntsville.
This area is blessed with beautiful lakes, skirts the rugged western edge of Algonquin Provincial Park, and in Fall it has tons of colourful foliage, and you continue up to North Bay, where you can connect to the rest of the Trans-Canada east or west (or take the Northern Route #11 west to Nipigon and Thunder Bay).
Heading east is no big challenge since the 401 was built back in the 1960s. This fast and pretty well straight-as-an-arrow route lets you drive along the northern shore of Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, though getting glimpses of either only occasionally.
Highway 401 has service stations are restaurants right on the highway, so you shouldn’t have to leave the 401 if you are making distance. Along the way you pass many historical lakefront towns (dating back to British colonial times), as well as the huge General Motor auto plant at Oshawa.
The 401 is named the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway for two great Canadians, one from Ontario and one from Quebec, and the stretch between Canadian Forces Base Trenton and Toronto is also called the “Highway of Heroes”.
Belleville is seen as the gateway to Prince Edward County on the Isle of Quinte, known for its Sandbanks Provincial Park and its many wineries. A pit stop in Kingston to see this charming city and historic Old Fort Henry at the Lake Ontario mouth of the Rideau Canal is definitely worth the detour. It passes nearby the Seaway towns of Gananoque, Brockville, and Cornwall.
When you reach Quebec, the route becomes #20 which and continues along the north shore of the St Lawrence to Montreal, and further east to Trois Riviere and Quebec City. In Montreal the #20 and connects with the #40 from Ottawa, which continues along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River as the Trans-Canada Highway, through Montreal and beyond.
Kawartha Lakes and Trent-Severn Detour
Heading northeast form Toronto along Highway 7, takes you from Whitby up to Port Perry (on Lake Scugog) to Lindsay (on Kawartha Lake) and Peterborough (with its lift lock on the Trent-Severn Canal and returning to the 401 at Trenton, the eastern terminus of the Trent-Severn, and a slight side-trip for Belleville & Prince Edward County.
For those cycling across the country from Toronto, you is illegal to use any for of the 400-series routes. Instead, for example, you should take Highway 2 (the King’s Highway) which connects all of the cities and towns along Lake Ontario. This was the road used before the 401, and winds nicely close to the water, with better views of the Lake and the St Lawrence than are provided from the 401. You also drive through the towns, which is handy for food, accommodation and repairs along the way.
Keep in mind that Toronto is not even on the Trans-Canada (the 401 is not part of the official route). The itineraries we include here for getting from Toronto to the highway may also be used by others to detour off the Trans-Canada through Toronto.
The “Toronto” that most tourists know and love is the part of this large metropolitan area that lies closest to the waterfront (the “downtown”) and the Toronto Harbour & the Islands (which are the result of sand that has accumulated from the eroding Scarborough Bluffs).
Most of the east-west 401 passes through what is known as North York, and when you go east of the Don Valley Parkway, you pass through the area known as Scarborough, while the Pearson International Airport, the city’s international gateway (in or out) is in Mississauga, while most of the airport-area hotels (just to the east of the airport) lie in Etobicoke.