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By 1913, there were over 17,300 motor vehicles registered in Ontario, including 39 steam and 223 electric powered vehicles, and fewer than a thousand motorized delivery wagons and motor trucks. Even back then, traffic jams had become a constant problem on the existing Lake Shore Road between Toronto and Hamilton.Although a familiar problem in our world today, bumper-to-bumper traffic was something new to the drivers of motor cars in those days.Roads of this era were primitive and often only usable in mid-summer when the earth was dry and hard enough for travellers on horseback, or in winter, when the packed snow allowed sleigh travel.By the early 1800s, the government became more involved in the funding, construction and maintenance of roads for several reasons: to open new areas for settlement, to improve postal service, to foster commerce and to facilitate the administration of government and movement of the military.The bicycle’s rising popularity increased the pressure to improve roads connecting towns and villages. Doolittle and many other cycling enthusiasts pressed for “good roads." In 1894, the Ontario Good Roads Association was founded and began its tradition of advocating better roads amid a growing recognition of the need for improved and safer roads for economic growth and community access.Day trippers, bike tourists and bike racers were an influential lot and advocated for good roads. This led the provincial government to become more involved in transportation issues.It included a 15 mile-per-hour (approximately 24 km/h) speed limit and a requirement for vehicles to be registered.
Historians call this the “dark age of the road” where roads were being uploaded and downloaded among levels of government. But this would begin to change in the 1890s—when the first automobiles appeared. He later became the first president of the Canadian Automobile Association and was a major proponent for the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway.
Up until the late 18th century the major transport routes were rivers and lakes, with the boat or canoe being the preferred mode for long-distance travel. Lawrence River and Great Lakes were the early highways of Ontario.
The forerunner of the modern road was the “portage”—rough trails detouring rapids or linking lakes that were vital paths for travellers using waterways.
And more recently, allowing automated vehicles on Ontario’s roads.
But to get the real scope of transportation history in Ontario, we have to go back…way back.