I lost my dad unexpectedly in August while I was on vacation to visit he and my mother in Algoma District. I've spent a lot of time since then, on the roads of Algoma, just driving, thinking, and driving some more. I’ve been detouring down some old roads from my past, with some of of them being places that Dad first took me. I also explored some roads that were new to me, in the days following my dad's passing.
Districts in Ontario, like Algoma, use the province's secondary highway system. The western end of Highway 552 links the Goulais River community (where my parents lived) to the Trans-Canada Highway (17). I've been along this highway many times.
The southern end of Highway 552 is actually an old alignment of Highway 17 from prior to 1961. It takes a meandering route northward and winds down the hills gradually to the Bellevue Valley, where the Goulais River flows. The present Highway 17 is much straighter, and features a steep, mile-long hill into the valley. I once coasted my bicycle into the valley via 552 (which I would never do via 17). Highway 552 ends at its southernmost point where it tees at Highway 556.
Highway 556 enters remote territory as it moves eastward. Our family cottage, from my childhood, was on Northland Lake, accessed via 556. The Algoma Central Railway passes nearby, and the former Northland Station was a couple of miles up this road. In theory, I could have taken the train from downtown Sault Ste. Marie to Northland Station, and then walked down the road a couple of miles to the cottage on the lake. But the station wasn't in use by the time we came along in the 1980s. The train still passed by, and the hills amplified the sounds so much that it felt like the train was bearing down on us.
Sault Ste. Marie now makes many of its signs collage-style, with several marker types appearing on a single backboard, as opposed to using individual metal signs. This sign directs traffic off secondary highway 550 and onto Carmen's Way, which is a municipally-built and maintained truck route that leads to the International Bridge. It has never been a part of the King's Highway system, yet it's marked with faux trailblazer shields. These shields should always have a highway number, and never a destination name. So these shields are used on the wrong road type, and they display the wrong type of info. There are no "to USA" cut-out shields; they are all applied, collage-style, to rectangular backboards. That said, I find them interesting to see.
Highway 550 is routed west of Highway 17 along Second Line in Sault Ste. Marie. If you want to go to the airport, you generally take 550, which exits the city to the west and continues beyond. From there, you take 565 south, which guides you to the airport.
What's going on here? King's Highway 550? Not really. It's an error. But this cluster wasn't made by some lowly city sign shop... this junction is outside the Sault city limits! The MTO is fully responsible for this cluster that implies Highway 550 is a King's Highway.
During a recent trip to the Sault Ste. Marie airport, I found this very old "one way" sign. "DOT" means "Department of Transportation," which Ontario officially had from 1957 to 1971. That year, the Departments of Transportation and Highways were amalgamated. Also around that time, English-only text on most regulatory signs was phased out in favour of wordless symbolism, thus paving the way for the blank one way signs we see today in Canada.
Moving eastward by about an hour's drive... here's the junction cluster at the southern terminus of Highway 638 in Bruce Mines, where my wife went to elementary school. Note how each portion of the cluster is its own metal sign, with no collages of decals on plywood (unlike the 565/550 junction).
Here's a Highway 17 assurance sign on the Thessalon bypass... note the French Trans-Canada marker. It looks like this sign was originally going to be a 17B, maybe for the business route running through Thessalon proper. That 17B route is marked with square junction signs at its termini, with one other junction sign at a turn in the town, but there are no shield-shaped 17B signs in Thessalon.
Here's the eastern terminus of 17B in Thessalon. It's right across the road from the southern terminus of King's Highway 129, which is a very remote route, but well-built.
Brand-spanking new 129 shield assurance marker, just north of the junction with Highway 17.
Here's an older 129 assurance sign, with "The King's Highway" across the top. But the font is Helvetica for both the slogan and the province name. The letters "T.B." appear at the bottom of the shield, but I have no idea what this could stand for. This sign is at the 554 junction, north of Wharncliffe, well away from Thessalon, so the "T" is unlikely to stand for that name.
This is the junction of 554 and 129, looking north. The 546 trailblazer sign should be in green, but it's just the same black-and-white as the 554 sign. I had never been up here before... this was just a drive I took to give my mind a break.
OK, this trailblazer for 546 is a little old, but at least it's green! I wonder if the opposite end of 554 has a shield-shaped trailblazer sign for Highway 129? I decide to go and see, because 554 isn't a very long highway.
Ok, so I've arrived at the eastern terminus of Highway 554. Looks like the installer had to Macgyver a little something for the southbound direction sign... So, any 129 trailblazer signs around here?
There's a 129 trailblazer! But we're actually on the route, and not at a junction, so shouldn't the 129 sign be shield-shaped? It looks like a shield sign would cover that empty space quite handily.
Here's a junction cluster, where I would expect to see a square-shaped 129 trailblazer. So all is right with the world, in this tiny little slice of it...
And this junction cluster looks correct, too. Just wish there were more shield signs to see. It's a really pretty drive up here... I'd have been satisfied even if there were no signs to photograph.
An older 17 shield just north of where Highway 546 meets Highway 17. Usually, these "JCT" signs are used where two numbered roads cross each other and continue onward. But this is in Iron Bridge, where 546 just ends at 17. I would have expected to see an "ENDS" sign with a directional cluster, like some of those shown above for 556 and 638. Also, this shield sign shows the same curious Helvetica font in the legends, plus the mysterious initials T.B. I wish I knew where / what / who T. B. is!