Highway 2 is currently a stub of its former self. At just over 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) in length, it is one of the shortest provincial highways in Ontario. Its nominal purpose is to provide a provincial route between westbound Thousand Islands Parkway and eastbound Highway 401. Highway 2 begins at the eastern town limits of Gananoque, and travels east a short distance before gently curving northward. It interchanges with the Thousand Islands Parkway, once referred to as "Highway 2S" prior to becoming a temporary part of the 401 in 1952, and ends at the westbound 401 offramp (interchange 648). The roadway continues as County Road 2 along the former provincial route to Quebec.
Numerous connecting links existed along urban sections of the former route of Highway 2. These sections were downloaded to the municipalities in which they reside before 1998. As such, when the Ministry of Transportation shortened Highway 2 on January 1, 1998, many signs along these connecting routes were not removed except in places where 2 was renumbered as a county road. These signs are still posted in places such as Windsor, London, and Toronto. In parts of Toronto, markers direct drivers along Lake Shore Boulevard west of downtown, and Lake Shore Boulevard, Coxwell Avenue (changed from the old route on Woodbine Avenue), and Kingston Road east of downtown.
Before the deletion of Highway 2, most of which took place on January 1, 1998, it was a continuous road from Highway 3 in Windsor to the Quebec border, at one time connecting with the like-numbered Quebec Route 2 (which was renumbered in the early 1970s as multiple provincial highways). It now has the following designations:Essex County: E.C. Row Expressway, County Road 22 and part of County Road 42 (the rest was Highway 2 before the E.C. Row was built)
Chatham-Kent: Chatham-Kent Road 2
Middlesex County: Longwoods Road west of London (Wharncliffe Rd., Stanley St., York St., Florence St.), Dundas Street east of London
Oxford County: County Road 2 except in Woodstock
Brant: Brant Highway 2 except in Brantford (Paris Rd, Brant Rd, Colborne St. E to Wilson St. Hamilton)
Hamilton: Wilson Street, Main Street, Paradise Rd., King Street, Dundurn Street, York Boulevard
Halton Region: Plains Road, King Road, North Shore Boulevard, Lakeshore Road
Peel Region: Southdown Road, Lakeshore Road
Toronto: Lake Shore Boulevard, Gardiner Expressway, Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road (1950s maps pre-Gardiner Expressway show King Street and Queen Street as parallel alternate routes due to heavy traffic volume)
Durham Region: Kingston Road (Ajax and Pickering), Dundas Street (Whitby), King & Bond Streets (Oshawa), Durham Highway 2 (not to be confused with Durham Road 2 (Simcoe Street)
Northumberland County: County Road 2
Hastings County: County Road 2 except in Belleville (where 2 / Dundas Street is concurrent with Ontario Highway 62 or is unnumbered)
Lennox and Addington County: County Road 2
Frontenac County: Kingston Road 2 (Princess/Queen Street, Ontario Street) (former Frontenac County section is now entirely within Kingston)
Leeds and Grenville United Counties: County Road 2 except the section from Gananoque east to Highway 401
United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry: County Road 2 except in Cornwall
East of the province, the route continued as Quebec Route 2, New Brunswick Route 2 and Nova Scotia Trunk 2 to end in Halifax. Like in Ontario, much of that road has been bypassed by a freeway (with no uniform designation except, partially, as a section of the Trans-Canada Highway) and/or renumbered. The Quebec portion (following the historic Chemin du Roy and Quebec bridge) was renumbered. New Brunswick assigned the old number to a new freeway which between Fredericton and Moncton differs substantially from the original route. Nova Scotia kept its portion of Highway 2 intact, numbering its bypass as Highways 102 and 104.
In 1972, the Ontario and Quebec governments designated Route 2 from Windsor to Rivière-du-Loup as the Heritage Highway (Route des Pionniers), a signed route which continued eastward to the Gaspé Peninsula on what is now Quebec Route 132. This tourist route included various side trips, such as highways to Ottawa and Niagara Falls. While this signage is maintained in some counties, much of the route is part of local itineraries such as a former Apple Route (Trenton to Brighton), an Arts Route (in Hastings County) and the Chemin du Roy (now Route 138 between Montreal and Quebec City).
Highway 2 was the first roadway assumed under the maintenance of the Department of Highways (today's Ministry of Transportation of Ontario). The 73.5-kilometre (45.7 mi) section from the Rouge River to Smith's Creek, now Port Hope, was inaugurated on August 21, 1917, as The Provincial Highway. On June 7, 1918, the designation was extended east (approximately 379 kilometres (235 mi)) to the Quebec border.
The forerunners to Highway 2 are numerous paths constructed during the colonization of Ontario. While some portions may have existed as trails created by Indigenous peoples for hundreds of years, the first recorded construction along what would become Highway 2 was in late October 1793, when Captain Smith and 100 Queen's Rangers returned from carving The Governor's Road 20 miles (32 km) through the thick forests between Dundas and the present location of Paris. John Graves Simcoe was given the task of defending Upper Canada (present day Ontario) from the United States following the revolution and with opening the virgin territory to settlement. After establishing a "temporary" capital at York, Simcoe ordered an inland route constructed between Cootes Paradise at the tip of Lake Ontario and his proposed capital of London. By the spring of 1794, the road was extended as far as La Tranche, now the Thames River, in London. In 1795, the path was connected with York. Asa Danforth Jr., recently immigrated from the United States, was awarded the task, for which he would be compensated $90 per mile.
Beginning on June 5, 1799, the road was extended eastwards. Danforth was hired once more, and tasked with clearing a 10-metre (33 ft) road east from York through the bush, with 5 metres (16 ft) (preferably in the centre) cut to the ground. It was carved as far as Port Hope by December, and to the Trent River soon after. Danforth's inspector and acting surveyor general William Chewett declared the road "good" for use in the dead of winter, but "impassible" during the wet summers, when the path turned to a bottomless mud pit. He went on to suggest that rather than setting aside land for government officials which would never be occupied, the land be divided into 200 acres (81 ha) lots for settlers who could then be tasked with statute labour to maintain the path. Danforth agreed, but the province insisted otherwise and only four settlers took up residence along the road; like many other paths of the day, it became a quagmire.
Danforth's road did not always follow the same path as today's Kingston Road. Beginning near Victoria Park Avenue and Queen Street East, the road can be traced along Clonmore Drive, Danforth Road, Painted Post Drive, Military Trail and Colonel Danforth Trail. Other sections of the former roadway exist near Port Hope and Cobourg, as well as within Grafton. Otherwise the two roads more or less overlap until they reach the Trent River; beyond this point Danforth's road is continued (1802) on a more southern route to reach the Bay of Quinte at Stone Mills (now Glenora). As the route straying through Scarborough avoided many of the settlers who had taken up residence near the lake, Danforth's road was bypassed by 1814 by William Cornell and Levi Annis. The Cornell Road (as it was known for a short time) shortened the journey from Victoria Park to West Hill, but remained mostly impassible like Danforth's route to the north. Finally succumbing to increasing pressures, the government raised funds to straighten the road and extend it through Belleville to Kingston. The work was completed by 1817 and the road renamed The Kingston Road.
Downriver from Kingston, roads built along the St. Lawrence for War of 1812 military use became a popular means to avoid rapids on the river by travelling overland.
Prescot, now called Fort Wellington, is important as being the chief stage between this port and Montreal, from which it is distant 130 miles, and between which coaches run every day, except Sundays. From the position of this place, however, as at the head of the Montreal boat-navigation, and at the foot of the sloop and steam navigation from the lakes, it must soon increase in extent, as it will rise in importance.
The creation of a post road extended year-round communication which had already existed on the Chemin du Roy from Quebec City-Montreal westward, with the first stagecoaches reaching York (Toronto) in January 1817. This link proved economically vital to enterprises such as the Bank of Montreal, established 1817 with branches in Quebec, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto. The original coaches left Montreal every Monday and Thursday, arriving in Kingston two days later; the full Montreal-York run took a week.
As with earlier routes (such as the Danforth Road), coaching inns prospered in every wayside village as the stagecoaches made frequent stops for water, food or fresh horses.
The original York Road (from Kingston) aka Kingston Road (from York) was initially little more than a muddy horse path. In 1829, a ferry crossing on the Cataraqui River in Kingston was replaced by a draw bridge. In the 1830s, efforts were made by various toll road operators to macadamise the trail as a gravel stagecoach road. On one section between Cobourg and Port Hope the Cobourg Star on October 11, 1848, expressed "surprise and deep regret, that the Cobourg and Port Hope Road Company have placed a tollgate on their road, although only just gravelled" adding a week later "On Sunday night last, the Toll House and Gate on the Port Hope Road were burned to the ground. We regret to say that there is no doubt as to its having been done designedly as a very hard feeling has grown up against the Company, from their having exacted Toll before the road was properly packed. They might have known that no community would quietly submit to drive their teams and heavy loads through six inches of gravel and pay for the privilege. But we would not be understood to sanction the lawless proceeding which has taken place."
Despite these issues, this road would remain the principal means of winter travel until the Grand Trunk Railway connected Montreal and Toronto in 1856. As intercity traffic formerly carried by the various stagecoach operators migrated to the iron horse, stagecoach roads faded to primarily local importance, carrying regional traffic.
This changed as the 20th century and the invention of the motorcar quickly made evident a need for better roads in the young but growing Dominion. The macadamised Lake Shore Road between Toronto and Hamilton, in poor condition with ongoing erosion, was the first section to be bypassed with concrete highway. The Toronto–Hamilton Highway, proposed in 1914, was opened along the lakeshore in November 1917. The Cataraqui Bridge, a toll swing bridge, was replaced by the La Salle Causeway that same year.
In 1918, the province subsidised the county and municipal purchase of various former toll roads (Brockville-Prescott, Paris-Brantford, Cobourg-Port Hope and Cobourg-Baltimore) to be improved and incorporated into the provincial highway system. Later acquisitions included a road from Cobourg to Grafton. As the roads became publicly owned, toll gates were removed.
In 1925, the Galipeault Bridge and Taschereau Bridge, both adjacent to 1854 Grand Trunk Railway bridges which were the first fixed mainland links to Montreal, brought Route 2 onto Montreal Island.
Ontario has published an official highway map since at least 1923, an era when many provincial highways were still gravel or unimproved road. To accommodate the passenger cars of the Roaring Twenties, efforts to pave Ontario's roads had begun in earnest. The 1926 Official Road Map of Ontario boasted the "Highway from Windsor to the Quebec border, via London will all be paved at the end of the present year" and "a person will then be able to travel over 700 miles of pavement without a detour". Twenty-five years after the first provincial road improvement efforts, Ontario maps boastfully listed fifteen king's highways (numbered 2-17, as 1 and 13 were never assigned) and a growing network of county roads. While thousands of miles of dirt and gravel road still remained throughout the system, the steel rails which crossed the region now had a credible rival in southern Ontario.
Beginning in 1935, McQuesten applied the concept of a second roadway to several projects along Highway 2: a 4 mi (6.4 km) stretch west of Brockville, a 4.5 km (2.8 mi) stretch from Woodstock eastward, and a section between Birchmount Road and east of Morningside Avenue in Scarborough Township. When widening in Scarborough reached the Highland Creek ravine in 1936, east of Morningside, the Department of Highways began construction on a new bridge over the large valley, bypassing the former alignment around West Hill. From here the highway was constructed on a new alignment to Oshawa, avoiding construction on the congested Highway 2. As grading and bridge construction neared completion between Highland Creek and Ritson Road in September 1939, World War II broke out and gradually money was siphoned from highway construction to the war effort.
The wartime rationing of the 1940s soon gave way to the fifties neon era of growing prosperity, increased vehicle ownership and annual paid vacations. Service stations, diners, motels and tourist-related establishments were proliferating on long strips of highway such as Toronto's Lakeshore Boulevard and Kingston Road to accommodate the growing number of travellers.
Increased traffic initially led to a construction boom, but soon the most congested sections were among the first candidates to be bypassed by freeway. By 1955, businesspeople along the north shore of Lake Erie were organising efforts to promote tourism on Highways 2 and 3, both of which stood to lose traffic upon the construction of Ontario Highway 401. In 1956, the 401 provided a continuous Toronto Bypass from Weston to Oshawa.
A portion of the highway in the area of Morrisburg was permanently submerged by the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958. The highway was rebuilt along a Canadian National Railway right-of-way in the area to bypass the flooded region. The town of Iroquois was also flooded, but was relocated 1.5 kilometres north rather than abandoned. This event led to the nickname of The Lost Villages for a number of communities in the area.
Countless roadside motels from Windsor to Montreal were bypassed in the 1960s, with the 401 motorway completed in 1968. Growing hotel chains built new facilities near the 401 offramps, saturating the market in some areas. By the 1980s, Toronto's portion of the Kingston Road was in steep decline. Some motels were used to shelter homeless or refugee populations, others were simply demolished.
What little of Highway 2 had not been bypassed by 401 (a section through Ancaster, Brantford and Hamilton) was ultimately bypassed by Ontario Highway 403. As Main Street in many communities Highway 2 remained packed to capacity with stop-and-go local traffic, sustaining countless shopkeepers and restaurateurs but offering little comfort to independent tourist motels. Outside urban areas, numerous former service stations were converted to other uses, demolished or abandoned.
The last section from Ancaster to Brantford, was bypassed on August 15, 1997. On January 1, 1998, most of the former length of Highway 2 was downloaded, transferring the highway from provincial responsibility to local counties or municipalities. The route lost its King's Highway designation in the process, along with much of its visibility on printed Ontario maps. Many Ontario highways which originally ended at Highway 2 (as the backbone of Ontario's highway system) were truncated or simply decommissioned, most often becoming county roads.
One token provincially maintained section of Highway 2 remains, east of Gananoque.
The following table lists the major cities along Highway 2, as originally noted on mileage charts included with Ontario's official road maps. These 1920s figures are based on the original 544.5 mile routing through Aultsville and Moulinette, Ontario.
Various changes to the routing caused the length to vary between 540 and 544 miles between the initial paving of the highway in 1926 and its decertification in 1998. While the route remains drivable for its entire length, officially only a 1.1 km stub currently remains under provincial control.
The following table lists the major junctions along Highway 2, as noted by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario.