Ontario Highway Sign History - History of Ontario's Kings Highways (2023)

Small Size King's Highway Signs (Used from 1930 to 1962):

GROUP ONE - Used from 1930 to 1955
Small Signs with "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" legend:

In 1930, an act was passed which changed the designation of Provincial Highways in Ontario to"King's Highways". The reigning English monarch at the time was His Majesty King George V. Atthat time, all of the old Provincial Highway signage was replaced with signs bearing the newhighway designation. The new King's Highway signs were quickly installed throughout theprovince. Over 9,000 of the new signs had been erected on Ontario King's Highways by the end of1932. The King's Highway sign configuration was far more convoluted than that of itsProvincial Highway predecessor. The new signs were redesigned, and a cut out "shield" stylesign was introduced. To reflect the new regal designation, a crown was added to the top of theshield. The crown was very intricate, even showing renditions of individual jewels and pearls.This resulted in a unique, highly irregular, but very recognizable sign shape. The signsread "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" followed by the route number underneath. At the bottom of the sign,the vertical interlocking letter format of "ONT" was discontinued. The letters "ONT" appear ina horizontal line below the route number on this sign type. This is a picture of a "Group 1"King's Highway 7 sign, showing the sign layout:

The earliest of the "Group 1" King's Highway signs were made of a porcelain enamel surface,applied to a steel backing. The sign dimensions are 47 cm by 30 cm (19" by 12", at its widestpoint) and are black-on-white in colour. The porcelain enamel signs were highly susceptibleto chipping. The signs were damaged easily from stones and other sundry roadside debris flungat the signs from passing vehicles. However, the biggest problem with the porcelain enamelsigns was that they were not reflective, and thus were hard for motorists to see at night.The porcelain signs were phased out in the late 1930s and 1940s. Later signs of this type aremade of various reflective material applied to a steel backing, as described in the precedingparagraphs. These reflective signs were generally produced after 1937, exclusively. The mostrecent signs in this group (1950s) have a distinctive "yellowed" look to them. This was due toa special treatment applied to the signs to make them even more reflective, like this example:

GROUP TWO - Used from 1955 to 1960
Small Signs without "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" legend:

The passing of His Majesty King George VI in 1952 created an unfortunate situation for theDepartment of Highways. The presumption of the naming of "The King's Highways" was that thereigning monarch was generally a King. However, shortly after the coronation of Her MajestyQueen Elizabeth II, it was decided to remove the legend "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" from all highwaysignage, in recognition of the new Sovereign. Signs made between 1955 and 1960 made noreference to "The King's Highway" designation, despite the fact that the roads were knownofficially and legally as King's Highways. Also, the province's name "ONTARIO" was spelled outon these signs, as opposed to being abbreviated as "ONT". The sign dimensions were still 47 cmby 30 cm(19" by 12", at its widest point) and were black-on-white in colour. These signs were madeexclusively of reflective material applied to a steel backing. Porcelain enamel highway signswere by that time obsolete, and were thus not seen in this sign group. This is a picture of a"Group 2" King's Highway 8 sign, showing the sign layout (Photo Courtesy Brian Weaver):

GROUP THREE - Used from 1960 to 1962
Small Signs with "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" legend restored:

In 1960, it was decided to reinstate the legend "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" on the signs. The legendhad been omitted for several years during the 1950s, after the coronation of Queen ElizabethII. A notable change was made to the signs at that time. The legend appeared in one continuousline, as opposed to the previous practice, which saw the legend broken onto two lines. As withthe Group 2 Signs, the province's name "ONTARIO" was spelled out, as opposed to beingabbreviated as "ONT". The sign dimensions were still 47 cm by 30 cm (19" by 12", at its widestpoint) and were black-on-white in colour. This is a picture of a "Group 3" King's Highway 5sign, showing the sign layout:

This last group of small size signs was phased out in the early 1960s, as they were difficultto see when motorists passed the signs at high speeds. In 1962, the small-size signs wereremoved altogether from the Department of Highways' sign manual, rendering them obsolete. Allcrown-shield signs made since 1962 have been the large size signs, as described below.

Large Size King's Highway Signs (Used from 1955 to Present):

GROUP FOUR - Used from 1955 to 1960
Large Signs without "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" legend:

In the 1950s and 1960s, increased improvements in the highway system brought about higherspeed limits. On controlled access freeways, the speed limit was set at 70 m.p.h. (113 km/h).The Department of Highways quickly learned that motorists could not see the King's Highwaysigns properly at that speed, especially at night. This was despite the fact that improvementshad been made in the reflective properties of King's Highway signage. It was decided to makethe crown shields significantly larger to improve visibility. In 1955, a new size sign wasintroduced on the 400-series freeways, and other high-speed arterial routes. These new signswere 64 cm by 45 cm (25 5/8" by 18", at its widest point) and were black-on-white in colour.This is a picture of a "Group 4" King's Highway 55 sign, showing the sign layout:

All of these signs were made from reflective material, affixed to a steel or aluminum backing.At first, the large size signs were used only on freeways and arterial routes with high speedlimits. The older, small size signs were still used for lower speed arterials and most ruralhighways. In 1962, it was decided to adopt the large size signs on all King's Highways. Thesmall size signs were quickly phased out, and were entirely replaced by the new signs. Thelarge size signs are still in use today, their size more or less unchanged.

GROUP FIVE - Used from 1960 to 1993
Large Signs with "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" legend:

In 1960, the designation "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" was restored to the highway signs. Very fewmodifications occurred to the sign layout over the next three decades. During this time, theDepartment of Highways departed from the use of paint on signs, and began to rely moreheavily on the use of vinyl, with reflective properties. Even the route numerals began to bemade from black vinyl, as opposed to the painted numerals seen on older signs. Signs from the1960s generally have a "yellowed" look to them, as they were actually painted/treated signs.Beginning in the 1970s, the use of vinyl and silk-screening became widespread. The newersigns tend to look very "white", when compared to older signs. The Group 5 signs are by farthe most common type of King's Highway sign, having been in use for over three decades withoutany major modifications to the design. Here is an image of a Group 5 King's Highway 2 sign:

GROUP SIX - Used from 1993 to Present
Signs without "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" legend:

In 1993, the Ministry of Transportation (the successor of the Department of Highways) beganthe process of removing the legend "THE KING'S HIGHWAY" from highway signs, leaving only theword "ONTARIO". This was done to make the signs bilingual, and to lessen the regal overtone ofthe highway's designation. The transition is still taking place to this day, and there arestill thousands of the older (Group 5) signs still on the road. However, all signs made since1993 are of the new Group 6 design. As the Group 5 signs get old or are damaged, they arebeing replaced exclusively with these new Group 6 signs. Despite some opposition from membersof the public who disagree with this break from tradition, the Ministry of Transportationintends to convert all of Ontario's signs to this new format over the next few years. Group6 signs can be easily distinguished from the old Group 4 signs made in the 1950s by studyingthe sign materials. The Group 6 signs made over the past few years are produced with a thickvinyl silk-screened face, and have black vinyl numerals. The Group 4 signs from the 1950s arepainted signs, with numerals applied to the sign with black paint. The reflective propertiesof the Group 6 signs will be obviously superior to the old Group 4 signs. Technology andinnovation has come a long way over the past four decades! The following picture is of aGroup 6 King's Highway 36 sign, without "The King's Highway" legend:

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