By Gord Smithson
After driving from Kingston to Tobermory and then taking the ferry to Manitoulin Island, it wasn’t long before my eyes analyzed a peculiarity in the landscape while crossing Manitoulin Island on highway 6. Something was different and it finally registered.
The road signs were different! They had the correct number, but there was something else that you normally would not see on the highways south of Tobermory. The words “The King’s Highway” were printed at the top of the highway 6 signs all across Manitoulin Island. Manitoulin Island still displays the previous older version of the Ontario Dept. of Highways signs that have since been replaced with newer signs in most other locations across Ontario.
Although many of the main roads were improved by 1925, highway route marker signs as we know them today were few and far between. Most signs were long and narrow wooden boards with the name of the town or village painted on one end, followed by mileage numbers printed at the arrow end of the board. At some “T” intersections, you would come across checkerboard wooden signs with a direction arrow painted next to the name of the next major town or city. A program was initiated in 1925 to standardize the Province’s existing route marker signs with metallic signs installed at appropriate roadside locations.
In 1960 the Dept. of Highways departed from the use of paint on signs and switched over to the use of black vinyl numbers applied to a white background metallic sign. Beginning in the 1970s the signs were created using a vinyl silk-screening process that eventually replaced the older signs, which are easily recognizable by the faded yellow-white background.
In 1993 all Ontario road route marker signs were given a new look. The words “The King’s Highway” would be removed, the metal signs were re-sized larger to accommodate easier readability by drivers of today’s high-speed vehicles, and a light reflective background would enable motorists to see them more easily during the non-daylight hours. The signs would now present a bilingual appearance.
The program to replace the older signs with the latest reflective signs is still underway and there are still many that are yet to be replaced. The older Highway 6 signs on Manitoulin Island are still there (Sept. 2006). If you wish to see them prior to their replacement, don’t wait too long.
The photo above, taken on Manitoulin Island, shows the removal of the words "The King's Highway" from highway markers.