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QEW Monument commemorates Ontario’s first “super-highway”

March 2020

When the Ontario government of George Stewart Henry began the process of expanding and converting the Middle Road into a new Toronto to Hamilton highway in 1931, it was originally conceived as a work relief project during the Great Depression.

Originally a dusty, rural concession road, the Middle Road, which ran parallel to the Dundas Highway (also known as the King’s Highway 5) and Lakeshore Road (also known the King’s Highway 2), most of the new highway was paved with concrete. A new two-lane parallel roadway was constructed beside the original two-lane road, separated by a median that converged together at bridges, with the rows of trees that lined the original roadway filling this new median.

After the 1934 provincial election, Ontario Minister of Highways Thomas McQuesten had the design of the highway changed to a similar style to the autobahns of Germany, with grade separated interchanges at major crossroads. The length of the highway was also extended to Niagara Falls

The new highway, the first intercity divided highway in North America, officially opened to traffic in 1937. Unlike today, the QEW wasn’t originally a true controlled-access highway at the time. While there were some interchanges, most intersections were at-grade, with the busier ones controlled by traffic signals.

As the name Middle Road didn’t seem fitting for this new highway, the name was officially changed to “Queen Elizabeth Way”, to commemorate the first Royal Visit to Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in June 1939.

A special dedication ceremony near the Henley Bridge in St. Catharines took place on 6 June 1939, with the King and Queen in attendance.

To commemorate the ceremony, monuments were erected at both ends of the new Queen Elizabeth Way. An Art Deco monument, officially known as the Queen Elizabeth Way Monument, but also known as both the Lion Monument and the Loring Lion, was erected at the eastern terminus of the highway, where it crosses the Humber River between what was then Etobicoke Township and the City of Toronto.

The stone column monument, topped with a crown, was designed by William Lyon Somerville, designer of the Henley Bridge, with the eight foot high stone lion sculpture designed by Frances Loring.

The base section features a profile of the King and Queen and an inscription reading: The Queen Elizabeth way was opened by the King and Queen in June 1939, marking the first visit of a reigning sovereign to a sister Dominion of the Empire. The courage and resolution of their Majesties in undertaking the Royal Visit in face of imminent war have inspired the people of this province to complete this work in the Empire’s darkest hour in full confidence of victory and a lasting peace. August 1940.

Special decorative sculptures and elements were also added to each end of the Henley Bridge in St. Catherines to commemorate the 1939 Royal Visit: four regal lions in the boat, each bearing a unique shield; piers at each end, two decorated with sailing ships; a third of a native person and canoe and a fourth of a rower.

As traffic volumes increased into the 1950s and 60s, it became necessary to close off all at-grade intersections along the QEW and build overpasses and proper interchanges, which was done by the end of the 1970s.

Two “skyway” bridges were constructed along the western portion of the QEW, diverting the QEW traffic from lift bridges that took cars over shipping canals, thus alleviating traffic congestion that resulted when the bridges were raised to allow ships to pass through.

The Garden City Skyway was built in 1963 over the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, and the Burlington Bay Skyway in 1958 over the Burlington Bay Canal. Both locations still have their respective lift bridges, but they carry local traffic now.

When it became necessary to expand the QEW to eight lanes in the Toronto area in the mid-1970s, the QEW monument had to be re-located as it was in the way of the way of the new lanes.

Initial plans to move it to Ontario Place provoked serious criticism, so in August 1975, the monument was instead re-located to Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, on the east side of the Humber River, just north of Lake Ontario shoreline.

When Queen Elizabeth, then known as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited Toronto in 1989, she oversaw the re-dedication of the monument in Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, where is remains to this day, still in view of the highway that bears her name.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Elizabeth_Way, http://www.thekingshighway.ca/Queen_Elizabeth_Way.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Middle_Road, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_City_Skyway, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burlington_Bay_James_N._Allan_Skyway

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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