The British government’s decision to relocate the capital of Upper Canada from Newark (present day Niagara-on-the-Lake), to a site on the Thames River, where London stands today, initiated the start of the Dundas Street highway.
Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe believed that this new inland capital, away from the American border, was a safer location and could be linked to Lake Ontario by the highway he planned – the road running from the Thames to Burlington Bay. From here, there were plans to link with a trail going eastwards to York (present day Toronto), and on to Kingston, with a north-south route joining York with Lake Simcoe (Yonge Street).
With his surveyor, Augustus Jones and accompanied by a guide, Jean Baptiste Rousseau, Simcoe selected the exact spot where the work would begin. They entered Burlington Bay from the lake and proceeded through the marsh at the eastern end, choosing a site that was a known Indian landing place. Jones began his survey, using a line marked at an angle of 70 degrees west that ran from Cootes Paradise to the upper forks of the Thames River, a distance of 80 miles.
Work on this first or western section of the route, that today is often referred to as ‘The Governor’s Road,’ went as far as the Mohawk Village on the Grand River where Joseph Brant was chief. The actual road-cutting, under the direction of Captain Smith and a company of men of the Queen’s Rangers, was completed in less than a month. Opening a road in 1793 involved nothing more than clearing a corridor through the bush, leaving the bigger stumps of maple, oak and pine to rot, and often going around very large or dense clumps of trees.
The second section of the highway begun in the spring of 1794 went as far as the site of the planned new capital, London. The departure of Lt. Governor Simcoe from Canada before the road had actually reached London, and his decision to designate York as the official capital of Upper Canada, almost caused work to cease completely.
Even though it remained as little more than a primitive path with mudholes that, as one early humorist wrote, “stretched from one spot to the next,” the opening of the road ensured that the settlement of Upper Canada would come.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 11 November 2005.