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Queen Elizabeth Way

The Queen Elizabeth Way (commonly referred to as the QEW or Queen-E) is a vital freeway linking Buffalo, New York and the Niagara Peninsula with Toronto and its western suburbs. The freeway starts at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario and continues 139 km through Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and Mississauga before ending at the junction of Highway 427 and the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. The QEW is one of Ontario's busier highways with over 200,000 average trips per day. The QEW is not referred to by any route number. Many falsely think of the QEW as Ontario's hidden Highway 1. This is not true. In fact, although never signed, the QEW does have the secret designation of Highway 451 and is considered part of the 400-Series Highway network.

Major freeway junctions are located at Highway 420, Highway 405, Highway 406, Burlington Street in Hamilton, Highway 403 in Burlington, Highway 407, Highway 403 in Oakville and Highway 427. A section of QEW through Halton Region is concurrently signed with Highway 403.

The Queen Elizabeth Way originally started as a divided-highway upgrade of the Middle Road through what is now Halton and Peel Region. Traffic volumes on Highway 2 were at the point where travel had become dangerous. The Department of Highways assumed ownership of the Middle Road in 1931 and began upgrades. Various sections of the newly upgraded Middle Road were open to vehicular traffic between 1936 and 1937. Construction of the New Niagara Falls Highway and Homer-Stamford Motorway between Hamilton and Niagara Falls began in 1936. Like Highway 2 through Halton and Peel, Highway 8 through Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula had become congested to dangerous levels, threatening Ontario's blooming tourist industry. Although a bypass of Highway 8 had been constructed in the 1920s (Highway 20, now Niagara Regional Road 20) many motorists felt it was too far out of the way to serve as a viable route to Toronto. The Department of Highways felt a new divided highway linking Niagara Falls and Hamilton to the Middle Road would lessen the traffic burden. Various sections of the New Niagara Falls Highway and Homer-Stamford Motorway opened between 1936 and 1939.

The highway was not named for Queen Elizabeth I or Queen Elizabeth II, but for the Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother) who was married to King George VI. In 1939 King George and Queen Elizabeth made a tour of Canada to celebrate his coronation and make themselves known to their Canadian subjects. On June 7, the Middle Road, New Niagara Falls Highway and Homer-Stamford Motorway were dedicated by the royal couple during a lavish dedication ceremony in St. Catharines. The Royal Motorcade vehicles were the first to travel on the newly-dedicated highway.

Various upgrades during the 1940s and 1950s brought the Queen Elizabeth Way up to modern freeway standards between Toronto and Hamilton, and later over its entire length. The Queen Elizabeth Way was extended further south to Fort Erie after World War II, leaving the QEW's original route to the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls as a branch which later became Highway 420. High-level bridges were constructed at Hamilton (the Burlington Bay Skyway and the Welland Canal in St. Catharines (the Garden City Skyway) in the 1960s to allow free movement of traffic without the need to stop for drawbridges; tolls on these bridges were eventually removed.

The QEW formerly continued beyond Highway 427 to the old Toronto city limit at the Humber River; this section was downloaded from provincial to municipal ownership in about 2000 and became part of the Gardiner Expressway.

Today, the QEW is a full four to eight lane freeway running through the heart of Ontario's tourist region. Construction is currently underway to widen the highway from four to six lanes through all of St. Catharines and Niagara Falls as well as a full eight-lane widening though Halton Region. Due to increased traffic volumes and environmental issues throughout the Niagara Region, plans are underway to construct a Mid-Peninsula Bypass of the QEW, running from Fort Erie though Welland ending in Burlington at Highway 407.

See Also: 400-Series Highway

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