A Compromise Route for the Trans-Canada Highway

A non-partizan analysis of the Trans-Canada Highway controversy and a practical suggestion as to a solution

E. WHARTON SHAW March 1 1931

A Compromise Route for the Trans-Canada Highway

A non-partizan analysis of the Trans-Canada Highway controversy and a practical suggestion as to a solution

E. WHARTON SHAW March 1 1931

A Compromise Route for the Trans-Canada Highway

A non-partizan analysis of the Trans-Canada Highway controversy and a practical suggestion as to a solution


DURING the past decade Canada’s highway system has been enlarged and improved beyond all recognition. In the autumn of 1920 the Hamilton highway was still incomplete, the Kingston road was a tribulation, and a drive by motor anywhere north of Toronto an adventure. Conditions in other parts of Canada were similar. Since that time road construction in all the populated areas of Canada has been pushed forward with truly remarkable energy and ability, so that today we have a system of highways which compares lavorably with that of any other country.

As a natural result of the insistent demands from existing communities for immediate action, the provincial road engineers have been forced to confine themselves to the mere building of random stretches ol road wherever the need was most urgent, instead of planning the whole system in advance.

The growth has been haphazard, and always the engineers, who should have been allowed to plan for years ahead, have had to follow behind the actual construction, widening, straightening, and frequently re-routing long stretches which, while serviceable when built, were incapable of being brought up to modern standards and consequently had to be abandoned.

Thus today we have the roads of Canada divided into three main systems, and the problem of the Trans-Canada 1 lighway is simply the problem of linking up these three systems into one.

Three Existing Systems

THE Trans-Canada Highway, considered as a complete entity and (dunned as a main trunk highway running from coast to coast, does not exist and probably never will exist. Such planning as has been done has consisted in designating certain existing main roads in the East and the West as portions of the ultimate coast-to-coast. highway, and in making very rudimentary suggestions for bridging the gaps.

The three existing systems, which will hereafter be referred to as the Eastern,

Central, and Western system follows:

Eastern: all the roads from the Atlantic to Northern Ontario, one branch ending at Sault Ste. Marie and another at Hearst.

Central: all the roads around the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur, the Eastern end being at Hydro on the Nipigon River, and the Western end at Finmark situated on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Western: all the roads from the Manitoba boundary to the Pacific Coast.

There are also two minor groups between Port Arthur and Winnipeg which will be dealt with later.

By a pure geographical accident, it happens that all the gaps between the systems lie in the Province of Ontario. Nowhere as yet in Canada have roads been built solely for the purpose of opening up unpopulated

country. Ontario has actually by far the best roads of any province, this of course having been made possible by the concentration of a considerable population in a reasonably small area, which is a favorable condition for road building. But to criticize Ontario for not building a road through the Northern wilderness would be about equal in intelligence to a complaint that Manitoba has not yet built a road to Churchill on Hudson Bay.

Ontario therefore takes the very reasonable standpoint that this road is not warranted nor financially possible if regarded as a purely provincial project; but if the road is a national necessity, then the province will be

willing to pay half the cost if the Federal Government will furnish the balance. The Prime Minister of Canada has agreed to the principle of Federal aid to complete the Trans-Canada Highway, and it would seem that all should, if this is carried out, be plain sailing.

The new road to be built can be best dealt with in two sections. The Western section will connect the central existing road system to the Western system. This new road will run from Finmark through Upsala, English River, Ignace, approximately paralleling the C. P. R. and connecting at Dyment to the first of the minor systems previously mentioned. From Dyment the road

is completed to Vermilion Bay, a distance of about sixty miles. From Vermilion Bay new construction will continue to Kenora, where it will connect with a second existing minor system. This last system is not at present connected with Winnipeg, but construction is now going on and both the Ontario and Manitoba governments have undertaken to have this section finished or at least in use by the autumn of 1931. For the purpose of this article, therefore, Kenora is being treated as the Eastern end of the Western system. The total mileage of the new road to be built to complete the Western section from Kenora to Port Arthur is about 215 mil&s. Between Kenora and Vermilion Bay surveys have been completed, and the latest indications are that work will be started there this winter.

From Dyment to Finmark no surveys have yet been made, but the route of the road is pretty well settled and this is easy roadbuilding country. The most important point about this section west of Port Arthur is that there is no dispute as to the route. Unquestionably this will be the next section to be completed. A second road from Port Arthur to Fort Frances and thence to Kenora is projected and some construction has been done, and this will ultimately provide an alternative route.

1'here now remains only the Eastern section to be discussed, and here Ls the seat of a purely local controversy, engaged in by about two per cent of the population of Canada, which threatens to delay indefinitely the completion of the TransCanada Highway.

As previously stated, the Eastern road system has two Western ends, and the discussion rages over which one shall be extended to connect up with the Central system. Actually the argument is which one shall be extended first, as unquestionably more than one road will ultimately be built. Northern Ontario realizes very clearly two vitally important points: first, that although the road is not projected for the purpose of developing Northern Ontario, nevertheless development in the district through which it runs will be immensely stimulated: second, that the building of the highway will be a very considerable financial strain and consequently a second road is likely to be many years behind

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A Compromise Route for the Trans-Canada Highway

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the first one. It is perfectly natural, therefore, that every town in the North which might possibly lie on the route of the Trans-Canada Highway feels that its whole future existence depends on the road coming through that town, and acts accordingly.

Local Controversy Causes Delay

NOW let us look carefully over the routes proposed by various factions in the North. Although the present division is on two main groups which can be generally classified as North versus South, there are actually four distinct proposals, each with a substantial backing. These are as follows, starting at the South, the distances in each case meaning miles of new road required and not actual distance over the whole route.

The North Shore Route: Distance 566 miles.

This runs from Sault Ste. Marie to Nipigon, following closely the North Shore of Lake Superior, and connects at Nipigon with the central road to Kenora as already described. This route is backed

very aggressively by all the towns along the highway from North Bay to the Soo except North Bay. Fort William and Port Arthur and all the towns to Kenora on the Western section have also recently combined with the Soo group to advocate this route.

A road has already been built from the Soo to Batchawana Bay about sixty miles, and this might be used as part of the proposed North Shore Route. There is also at present under construction about fourteen miles of road between Schreiber and Rossport, fifty miles east of Nipigon. None of the remainder of this route has been surveyed, and it is doubtful whether any single person has ever been over the whole of the country this road is expected to traverse. The demands of the sponsors of this route that the road shall keep closely to the lake shore makes it difficult to estimate the actual distance, and it is fairly certain that the figure of 425 miles taken as the distance from the Soo to Nipigon is too low. The scenery along this route, which is rugged and rocky, undoubtedly excels anything on the American continent east of the Rocky

Mountains, but this condition of course makes the road more difficult and expensive to build.

The industrial interests will undoubtedly look at this problem as one in which the quick and economical transportation of merchandise and passengers requires first consideration, and it is quite clear that the road along the North Shore will be a series of grades and turns which are highly objectionable in a modern commercial highway. There are many Canadians who look forward to the day when transportation over the Trans-Canada Highway will reach proportions comparable to those obtaining on the transcontinental highways of the States, and the shortest, straightest and most level road is what is required for this purpose.

The Mississagua Route: Distance 611 miles.

This route was first proposed by Geo.

B. Nicholson, M.P., and is sponsored by the town of Chapleau and other towns on the C. P. R. between Sudbury and Franz. It starts at a point near Blind River on the Soo Highway, about eighty miles east of the Soo, and runs roughly north to Chapleau and then in a generally northwesterly direction to Oba, which is the junction of the Algoma Central and the

C. N. Railways. From Oba the route follows the C. N. R. west through Longlac and Jellicoe to Hydro, where it connects with the Central road system and follows the Western section as previously described to Kenora.

On this route there is already built a road known as the McFadden road, running from Dean Lake to a point about sixty miles north. There is also a road from Chapleau about twenty miles south, which would be used. There remains to be surveyed and constructed about thirtyfive miles between Blind River and Chapleau, and about 350 miles between Chapleau and Hydro.

The advantages claimed for this route are that by striking north at a point east of the Soo it avoids the very rocky country of the North Shore, while still providing a reasonably convenient highway system for all the population from North Bay to the Soo. It would be much cheaper per mile to construct, and would traverse country that has not only wonderful scenery and fishing but is also capable of considerable agricultural development. The really important feature of this route, however, as will be seen later, is that it provides a basis for a compromise between the North and the South.

3. The Cochrane Route: Distance 507 miles.

New construction on this route will start at Coppell, a village about nineteen miles south of Hearst, to which it is connected at present by a good road. From Coppell the route goes south to Oba about thirty-six miles, and from there west is the same as the Mississagua Valley route.

This proposition has great advantages. It provides the shortest route so far as new construction is concerned, and also would traverse what is unquestionably the easiest road-building country. Most of this route is favorable for settlers. If the Trans-Canada Highway were regarded solely as a national proposition, the object being to link up the existing road systems in the quickest and most economical manner, then the Cochrane Route would certainly be selected.

North Bay and all the towns connecting with the Ferguson Highway and its extension weet to Hearst have formed themselves into the Northern Ontario Associated Boards of Trade, and this group is solidly behind the Cochrane Route.

4. The Northern Route: Distance 519 miles.

This proposal has a number of scattered supporters, all of whom are located along the main line of the C. N. R. between Cochrane and Sioux Lookout. All the towns west of Hearst are solidly for this route, but the total population along the 400 miles of the C. N. R. between Hearst and Sioux Lookout is less than three

thousand. This road would run directly west from Hearst and parallel the C. N. R. to Richan, where it would connect with a minor existing system and follow this existing road to Quibell; from whence a new road would be built to Redditt, which is already connected to Kenora.

This route has many things in its favor. It is only very slightly longer than the Cochrane Route, and for the most part runs through easy country. It is also favorable for settlers. If built it would involve a shorter distance from any point east of North Bay to Winnipeg than any other of the proposed routes, and if it were extended eastward from Cochrane to link up with the projected Quebec highways it would ultimately become the main trunk highway for all traffic originating at Quebec City or east of that point, and would be something like 200 miles shorter between Quebec and Winnipeg. The writer believes that in the future this road will be built, but so far as this article is concerned it must be discarded at once for the perfectly obvious reason that it not only fails to provide an outlet for the Sudbury Soo district, but also fails to connect at any point with the existing Central road system. If this road were to be built now, the Port Arthur district would still have no outlet either east or west. It is interesting to note that this is the only proposed road that runs north of Lake Nipigon.

Comparative Advantages

'T'HERE remain three proposals which must now be considered further. Having eliminated the Northern Route, it is important for the reader to understand that the three remaining all have the same Western section, so that the only portion of Northern Ontario which we are now considering is that part east of the Nipigon River. All communities west of this are certain of being adequately provided for, and they have no vital interest in the route from Nipigon east as any one of the three will follow the same course through their territory.

All the towns in this latter section are at present supporting the North Shore Route, and although they are perfectly entitled to do so, their advocacy of a particular route has no weight in a political sense, since they would have no legitimate cause for objection if one of the other routes were chosen. This is important because, as will be shown in a moment, legitimate political opposition is more powerful than political acquiescence.

In an effort to come to some intelligent decision, let us analyze these rival routes by an enumeration and valuation of their advantages and disadvantages. Essential factors are:

1. Distance.

2. Cost.

3. Possibilities for settlement.

4. Tourist attraction.

5. Political expediency.

As far as the first four factors are concerned, I would classify the three routes under consideration as follows:

New Capacity Construefor Tourist

tion SettleAttrac-

Route Distance ment tion Cost North Shore 566 miles 5% 100% 1398 units


Valley 611 “ 80% 100% 833 "

Cochrane 507 “ 80% 100% 729 “

It Is interesting to compare the final road distances from a common point in the East to a common point in the West over these three routes.

North Bay to

Port Arthur Winnipeg

via via

North Mississagua via Shore Valley Cochrane 777 miles 763 miles 711 miles 1219 “ 1205 “ 1153 “

From this it is seen that there is little to choose between them in respect to distance.

In considering the possibilities of settle-

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ment along the North Shore of Lake Superior, it is impassible to assume that this could consist of anything more than what is necessary for tourist accommodation and service, and the few estates which might be maintained by wealthy people. As the tourist season cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered as longer than four months in the year and as there is no evidence of any agricultural land, it is probably an overestimate to say that five miles of every hundred of this road will eventually be settled.

As regards the other two routes, the estimate of eighty per cent capable of settlement is made without expert knowledge or investigation and may prove to be too high, but it is based on what has actually been accomplished on similar land along the Ferguson Highway. With reference to the question of tourist attraction, this is an advantage that is claimed by the proponents of every route and they are all right. The fact is that the whole of Northern Ontario is a tourists’ paradise and will produce an enormous income from this source alone no matter which route is chosen. The tourist angle therefore can be left out of account when making a decision.

Data on Costs

IN ATTEMPTING to give some data on costs, the country has been arbitrarily divided into two classes. The first is flat forest-covered land with clay sand or gravel soil such as predominates in the North. This type of land requires merely to be cleared and drained, and it is then ready for surfacing.

The second class consists of rocky and hilly country such as features the Lake Superior shore. Here much filling and blasting has to be done, and the expense of road building is greater. All bridging is ; presumed to be included in the cost allowed for the second class of country. The cost per mile of road through number one country has been taken as one cost unit, and the cost through number two country as three cost units. The idea is to arrive at the relative costs of the three routes. The proportion of each type of country allotted to each route is based on a careful investigation and may be taken as closely accurate. This is how the figures are made up:

No. 1 No. 2

Country Country

Cost Cost Total Cost

Route Miles Units Miles Units Miles Units

! North Shore 150 150 416 1248 566 1398


Valley 500 500 111 333 611 833

Cochrane 396 396 111 333 507 729

This very clearly shows the difference between the North Shore country and the Northern plains in natural difficulties. As a fact, the country along the Cochrane Route is nearly all easy for road building and abounds with sand and gravel, many gravel pits being available which were opened up during the construction of the old Canadian Northern Railway, now the central line of the C. N. R.

As the conclusions to be drawn from this article are definitely adverse to the construction at present of the North Shore Route, great care has been taken to avoid any exaggeration in favor of the more Northern routes, and the relative cost figures given here are much more favorable to the former than they would be if the opinion of various experts who have been consulted were stated. After actually going over the whole of the Cochrane Route, the writer feels quite sure that a contract could be let to complete a thirty-foot gravel road over the whole of this route in two years at a flat rate of $20,000 per mile, which would involve a total cost of about $10,140,000. This to include all cuts, fills, bridges, etc. This is very different from the fifty million dollars to two hundred million dollars which has been so loosely quoted as the probable cost of this project.

On the basis of the first four of these essential factors, the Cochrane Route comes out first, with the Mississagua Valley a fairly close second, and the North Shore last.

Now let us apply the test of political expediency.

The road is going to be built for the citizens of Canada in general and by the Province of Ontario. * Unless something approaching a revolution takes place, it is safe to say that the Dominion Government will confine itself strictly to the supply of funds and will leave entirely to the provincial government the unpleasant job of determining the route. This is going to be extremely difficult to do because determined minorities can wield extraordinary power under our political system, and each of the routes has tne support of a determined minority, which, incidentally, cannot be blamed for making every effort to route the road through its particular section.

Suppose the Ontario Government were to decide tomorrow on any one of these routes, it matters not in the least which one, the result would be the same. If it is che North Shore Route—which at present has the strongest backing—then immediately the storm would break on the existing government. Every M.P., whether Federal or Provincial, representing the territory from North Bay to Hearst, if he had any desire to be again elected, would have to protest in the most violent manner in Parliament, or if Parliament were not sitting then to the Cabinet. Deputations would flow to Toronto and Ottawa and would camp there, every possible effort would be made to involve the Dominion Government in the row, and every interest antagonistic to the existing powers would take advantage of the opportunity to line up with the people of the North who actually would have a genuine grievance. Nothing could prevent a political crisis of the first importance maturing in a few days.

And to those who think this is an exaggeration, let me say that there is not the remotest chance of it ever being put to the test, because no Government of Ontario will make any decision whatever so long as the present situation exists. This is in no sense whatever an indictment of the present or any other government. No government could continue to function if it insisted on making arbitrary decisions on highly controversial questions.

The conclusion is inevitable that as things are, no single one of these three roads can possibly be built.

What, then, is the solution, and how is it to be effected?

A Compromise Route

IT IS perfectly obvious that the warring factions in Northern Ontario must find some compromise. Compromise is the inescapable result of the democratic form of government which we have in Canada.

The building of the Cochrane Route would unquestionably retard development in the Sudbury Soo district for the next ten years or so, whereas the construction of the North Shore highway, on account of the vastly greater cost and time required, would result in denying the more northern districts their proper development for perhaps twenty years. If the North Shore road were built, anyone at Hearst would have to drive 1190 miles to reach Port Arthur, as against a distance of only 391 miles if the Cochrane Route were available. This handicap is obviously equivalent to being without a road connection altogether. The same condition exists if you consider a man wishing to go from the Soo to Port Arthur with only the Cochrane Route available. A glance at the map shows the absurdity in either case.

Now it is clear that if the North Shore Route is to be built, the only possible compromise would be to build a second

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distinct road to give the North an outlet. There is no way in which the North Shore Route can be reasonably linked up) with the North. As the cost of this road will be much greater than any other, and as the provision of funds is going to be a difficulty even with the least expensive route chosen, it must follow that any decision to construct the North Shore highway is equivalent to abandoning the North, which we have already shown to be a political impossibility. The North Shore Route, on these grounds, is held by the writer to be out of the question as a part of the first Trans-Canada Highway.

Next consider the Mississagua Valley Route. Here we begin to see daylight. All the country from North Bay west to the Soo is well taken care of. The start of this route is shown at Blind River, but there is no doubt that the compromise could be carried a bit further and that a direct connection from the Soo to the McFadden road could be provided, making use of one of the roads that at present run northeast from the Soo.

Proceeding north, the Mississagua Valley Route takes in the town of Chapleau, which has over 3,000 inhabitants and is over a hundred years old but has no road connections with the outside and is not on any of the other proposed roads. Proceeding again, the road goes to Oba, from which point west it is the same as the Cochrane Route. From Oba it is only necessary to construct thirty-six miles of road north to tie in with the Cochrane Route at Coppell, and then you have a compromise route that takes care of the legitimate demands of the whole country. This combined Cochrane-Mississagua Valley Route, or something closely approximating it, is offered by the writer as a nearly perfect compromise and as a thoroughly possible and practical proposition from every point of view.

The addition of the Mississagua Valley j leg to the Cochrane Route involves the ; construction of about 140 miles of new road. This is all in easy country and, assuming a cost of $20,000 per mile, the cost of the whole compromise route works out at leas than thirteen million dollars.

This compromise was very seriously I considered by all the interested parties ; last year, and the towns of Sudbury and i Chapleau sent powerful deputations to practically every part of the North urging the acceptance of this proposal. At the ! semi-annual meeting of the Northern Ontario Associated Boards of Trade held at Cochrane on September 16, representatives from both Sudbury and Chapleau were present and spoke strongly in support of the compromise, as did more than , one independent speaker. Unfortunately j there is a small body of diehards up there : who take the view that not only must the j Trans-Canada Highway be completed via I Cochrane but on no account must any ¡ other district be allowed access to it.

It should be well understood that the

compromise proposal includes the whole of the Cochrane Route, not one inch being taken away but merely the Mississagua Valley leg added. From a very considerable knowledge of the people of the North, the writer is of the opinion that the majority of the population along the Ferguson Highway and its extension west to Hearst, are in favor of the compromise, but the meeting in question was dominated by a determined minority and so the plea of Sudbury and Chapleau was ignored.

Sudbury and the Soo also had several joint meetings about this time, with Sudbury attempting to get the support of the Soo for the compromise route. However, the Soo has always made a hobby of the North Shore Route, and with the North refusing to advance one inch toward a compromise, it was hardly surprising that in the end Sudbury decided to join with the Soo in support of the latter.

And there is the present situation; a definite line-up of the North versus South, with no chance whatever of either side succeeding in their object. Meanwhile the whole of Canada is waiting for a road.

Neither is there the least chance of the situation being cleared up by the action of either the Federal or the Provincial Government within any reasonable length of time. Every official pledge that has been made can be fulfilled by the construction of roads west of Port Arthur, where there is no dispute, and by improving various Eastern sections which are in use but have not been brought up to modern standards; and a decision of any sort regarding the route through the Eastern section can easily be avoided for four or five years.

This is exactly what will happen unless public opinion can be brought to bear on the contestants. Up to the present the rest of Canada has very properly kept out of the battle, not knowing what it is all about and not being aware that the interests of the public in general are affected.

If the public of Canada really want this road, they will have to get up and do something about it, and if they are not sufficiently interested to join in the fight they have no right to share in the spoils.

Public bodies such as chambers of commerce in large cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton should invite public discussion on this subject, and representatives from all the disputing sections should be asked to debate the question in public. All motor clubs would no doubt cooperate in this, and as wide publicity is a certainty it should be possible to find out what conclusion the people of Canada will come to once they know all the facts. Once there exists any really considerable body of the public having no direct interest in Northern Ontario but with a definite solution which protects as far as possible the rights of all parties, it should not take long to reach an agreement.

Until then there will be no TransCanada Highway,