Ontario Highway 21

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Highway 21

Bluewater Highway
Highway 21 highlighted in red
Route information
Maintained by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario
Length226.8 km[2] (140.9 mi)
ExistedMay 25, 1927[1]–present
Major junctions
South end Highway 402 near Wyoming
Major intersections Highway 8 in Goderich
 Highway 9 in Kincardine
North end   Highway 6 / Highway 10 / Highway 26 in Owen Sound
Major citiesGrand Bend, Goderich, Kincardine, Southampton, Port Elgin, Owen Sound
Highway system
Highway 20 Highway 23
Former provincial highways
Highway 22  →

King's Highway 21, commonly referred to as Highway 21, is a provincially maintained highway in the Canadian province of Ontario that begins at Highway 402 midway between Sarnia and London and ends at Highway 6, Highway 10 and Highway 26 in Owen Sound. The roadway is referred to as the Bluewater Highway because it remains very close to the eastern shoreline of Lake Huron.

Highway 21 was first designated by the Department of Highways (DHO) between Highway 3 and Highway 7 in mid-1927 and extended to Goderich in 1934. A year later, a final extension completed the route to Owen Sound. In 1997 and 1998, the portion of the route south of Highway 402 was transferred to the counties in which it laid. This segment is also known as Oil Heritage Road.

Highway 21 is often subject to winter closures due to lake effect caused by snowsquall, which can create sudden whiteout conditions along the Lake Huron shoreline. Several Emergency Detour Routes have been established further inland to guide drivers around such closures. Care should be taken during the winter months, as the storms can progress rapidly and unexpectedly.

Route description

Southbound Highway 21 and northbound Highway 6 are concurrent in Owen Sound, the only example of a wrong-way concurrency in the provincial highway network.

Highway 21 is a long lakeside route through Southwestern Ontario, which serves numerous communities along the eastern shoreline of Lake Huron. Once over 100 kilometers (62 mi) longer than it is today, the highway now begins at Highway 402 near the community of Warwick, where it progresses north through the towns of Forest, Grand Bend, Goderich, Point Clark, Kincardine, Tiverton, Port Elgin, and Southampton. At Southampton, the highway veers away from the Lake Huron shoreline and travels east to Owen Sound.[3]

The route is generally smoothly-flowing, but can be somewhat congested through towns during the summer from tourists and cottagers.[4] Highway 21 is often subject to closures at various points as it lies on the lee shore of Lake Huron. Lake effect snow squalls frequently subject motorists to poor visibility and slippery conditions, leading to whiteout conditions. Therefore, the Ontario Provincial Police claim that the road is the most-commonly closed in the province.[5][6]

Highway 21 and Highway 6 descend the Niagara Escarpment into Owen Sound.

The highway begins at Exit 34 and progresses north towards Lake Huron. The mostly-straight section of the route lies within Lambton County and passes through the town of Forest. Near Kettle Point, the route abruptly curves north west and begins to parallel the shore of the lake, providing access to the village of Port Franks and The Pinery Provincial Park prior to entering Grand Bend. North of that village, the highway crosses into Huron County and intersects former Highway 83. Between there and Goderich, the west side of the highway is dominated by roads providing access to shoreline cottages.[3]

At Goderich, the route encounters Highway 8, then crosses the Maitland River along a bypass constructed during the early 1960s; the original routing followed portions of Saltford Street and River Ridge Crescent. The highway proceeds straight north as the baseline at the shore of Lake Huron until it reaches Sheppardton. There the surveying grid changes orientation, and Highway 21 follows a forced road allowance that meanders approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) inland from lake north to Amberley, where it encounters former Highway 86, which travels to Waterloo, and enters. The route curves northeast as it enters Bruce County to align with the surveying grid and proceeds out of Amberley towards Kincardine.[3]

Highways 21 and 6 form the only wrong-way concurrency in the Ontario highway network.

Between Amberley and Tiverton, Highway 21 travels straight-as-an-arrow along what was originally a rural concession road through the hamlets of Reid's Corners, Pine River, Huron Ridge and Slade. It bypasses inland of Kincardine, intersecting the western terminus of Highway 9. Within Tiverton, which acts as the primary town serving Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, traffic must turn to remain on Highway 21. As it exits southeast from the town, the highway makes a broad curve to the northeast and continues through the hamlets of Underwood and North Bruce.[3]

As it approaches the southern end of the Bruce Peninsula, the route bisects Port Elgin, then curves abruptly towards Lake Huron and passes through Southampton before curving to the east towards Owen Sound. Between those two places, the highway is generally straight, except at the boundary between Bruce and Grey Counties as well as the descent of the Niagara Escarpment at Springmount. Several communities line the inland stretch of highway, including Chippewa Hill, Kelly's Corners, Elsinore, Allenford, Alvanley and Jackson. At Springmount, the route encounters Highway 6, which joins Highway 21 to form Ontario's only wrong-way concurrency east to Owen Sound.[3]


Highway 21 in Port Franks at the junction of what was then Highway 82

Highway 21 was the first King's Highway in Lambton County when it was assumed in 1927 between Highway 3 at Morpeth and Highway 7 at Reece's Corners.[7] The original section of highway was rebuilt from a muddy trail to a plank road around 1860. When James Miller Williams, a Hamilton businessman, set out one day during a drought to dig a well, he chose a spot downhill from an existing oil seep in the village of Black Creek. Instead of encountering water, Williams hit a shallow oil deposit. As a result of the ensuing oil boom, which would begin the petroleum industry in North America, Williams laid out the village and changed its name to Oil Springs. Two competing plank road companies were formed, the Black Creek Plank Road Company (of which Williams was a principal investor) and the Sarnia to Florence Plank Road Company, both of which aimed their roads through Oil Springs. Although both roads were constructed, the former company was more prosperous in its endeavours; in 1886, a significant portion of the Sarnia to Florence Plank Road was closed up and turned over to local property owners. The Black Creek Plank Road Company meanwhile had transformed the muddy quagmire of a path into a well-maintained road. By 1863, three miles of road south of Wyoming had been paved, and the remainder south to Oil Springs planked (the Sarnia Road followed two years later). However, as the oil boom faded, so too did improvement to the road.[8]

Highway 21 near Petrolia. A Bowstring Arch bridge was constructed to replace the existing county-built bridge shortly after the department designated Highway 21.

On May 25 and June 1, 1927, the Department of Highways assumed the unpaved road between Highway 7 at Reece's Corner and Highway 3 at Morpeth, via Dresden, Thamesville and Ridgetown as Provincial Highway 21,[1][9] which was changed to the current King's Highway 21 in 1930.[10] That year, the department set out to improve the new highway. Concrete slabs were laid between Petrolia and Highway 7, as well as along a 7.25-kilometer (4.50 mi) section between Thamesville and Dresden. The following year, the route was paved between Dresden and Edys Mills before the effects of the Great Depression forced the department to concentrate on paving Highway 22.[11] The election of a new government in mid-1934 led to the resumption of work in June as a depression relief project. New equipment (namely a Caterpillar Excavator), as well as the expertise of Andy Newman, an engineer who was hired when he demonstrated his abilities with the machinery upon passing a construction site on his drive home. Newman, who helped design the machine that nobody else could operate, allowed work to proceed at a much faster rate than before. The machinery could dig quicker than 50 men, and the effort showed when the gap between Petrolia and Edys Mills and the remaining gaps between Dresden and Thamesville were graded and paved by the end of the summer.[12] On October 19, 1934, Highway 21 was officially opened by Robert Mellville Smith, deputy minister of the Department of Highways.[13]

On April 4, 1934, Highway 21 was assumed through Huron County as far north as Goderich, which was followed by the assumption of a section through Bosanquet Township on April 18, creating a 40.6 kilometers (25.2 mi) concurrency with Highway 7 from Reece's Corners to Thedford. From there, the route travelled through Thedford to Port Franks, where it merged into the present highway.[14] A final 137.4-kilometer (85.4 mi) extension to Owen Sound was assumed on May 15, 1935,[15] bringing the highway to its greatest length of 333.1 kilometers (207.0 mi).[16]

Excavation work to bypass Highway 21 north of the Maitland River near Goderich

Meanwhile, on April 11, 1934, the department assumed control of a road connecting Highway 7 with Forest as Highway 21A.[14] It was later extended to connect with Highway 21 at Port Franks on August 19, 1936.[17] By 1938, Highway 21A had been renumbered as Highway 21, and Highway 21 through Thedford renumbered as Highway 82.[18]

Beginning in 1960, a small bypass of Highway 21 was constructed on the north side of Goderich,[19] avoiding a nearby hairpin turn.[20] The 160 m (520 ft) curving structure over the Maitland River was completed in mid-1961 at a cost of C$1.39 million and opened ceremoniously on July 17, 1962.[21][22]

During the early 1980s, the construction of Highway 402 east from Sarnia resulted in a shift in the route of the highway. The route was extended north from Reece's Corners to Exit 25, while the section from Highway 7 north to Exit 34 was "downloaded", or transferred to the local municipality in which it resided. With Highway 402 as the connecting provincial link between the two segments of Highway 21, the two parclo interchanges each include a directional ramp to facilitate traffic.[23]

Further transfers were performed in 1997 and 1998. On April 1, 1997, the section of Highway 21 from Highway 401 south to Morpeth was transferred to Kent County.[24] On January 1, 1998, the section between Highway 401 and Highway 402 was transferred to Kent and Lambton counties.[25]

Major intersections

The following table lists the major junctions along Highway 21, as noted by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario.[2] 

Morpeth−100.0−160.9 Highway 3 – Leamington, St. Thomas, BlenheimThis section of Highway 21 was downloaded in 1997/1998
Lambton−9.3−15.0 Highway 402 – SarniaBeginning of former Highway 402 concurrency; Exit 25
0.00.0 Highway 402 – LondonEnd of former Highway 402 concurrency; Exit 34
Forest10.416.7Hickory Creek BridgeBeginning of Forest Connecting Link agreement
14.022.5Northern town limits of Forest; end of Connecting Link agreement
Lambton Shores20.833.5 County Road 7 (Lakeshore Road)
30.849.6 County Road 79 south (Northville Road) – ThedfordFormerly Highway 79
HuronGrand Bend43.870.5Southern town limits of Grand Bend; beginning of Connecting Link agreement
46.474.7Northern town limits of Grand Bend; end of Connecting Link agreement
Brewster49.078.9 County Road 83 (Dashwood Road) – ExeterFormerly Highway 83
St. Joseph58.393.8 County Road 84 (Zurich–Hensall Road) – ZurichFormerly Highway 84
Bayfield74.3119.6 County Road 3 (Mill Road) – Seaforth
Goderich92.0148.1Huckins StreetSouthern town limits of Goderich; beginning of Goderich Connecting Link agreement
93.7150.8 Highway 8 (Huron Road) – Clinton
94.8152.6Gloucester TerraceNorthern town limits of Goderich; end of Goderich Connecting Link agreement
Dunlop98.4158.4 County Road 25 (Blyth Road) – Blyth
Kintail118.0189.9 County Road 20 (Belgrave Road) – Belgrave
Amberley128.3206.5 County Road 86 – Wingham, WaterlooFormerly Highway 86
BruceKincardine145.1233.5 Highway 9 (Broadway Street) – Walkerton
157.1252.8 County Road 15 west – Inverhuron
162.1260.9 County Road 15 east
Port Elgin179.9289.5Southern town limits of Port Elgin; beginning of Connecting Link agreement
184.1296.3Northern town limits of Port Elgin; end of Connecting Link agreement
Saugeen Shores186.2299.7 County Road 3 – Burgoyne
Southampton186.8300.6South StreetSouthern town limits of Southampton; beginning of Connecting Link agreement
192.1309.2Craig StreetNorthern town limits of Southampton; end of Connecting Link agreement
Arran–Elderslie207.3333.6 County Road 10 south – Tara
210.3338.4 County Road 10 north – Hepworth
GreyGeorgian Bluffs
Springmount221.4356.3 Highway 6 north – Wiarton
County Road 18 south
Pottawattamina River Bridge; formerly Highway 70; beginning of the sole wrong-way concurrency in Ontario
Owen Sound226.8365.0 Highway 6 south / Highway 10 east / Highway 26 – Chatsworth, CollingwoodEnd of wrong-way concurrency
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi
  •       Closed/former


  1. ^ a b Whipp 1983, p. 31.
  2. ^ a b Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (2016). "Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts". Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e Mapart (2010). Ontario Back Road Atlas (Map). Peter Heiler Ltd. pp. 13, 20, 26, 38–39. § Z10–T19. ISBN 978-1-55198-226-7.
  4. ^ Wright, Heather (September 12, 2011). "Looking for Traffic Solutions in Grand Bend". Sarnia and Labton County This Week. Archived from the original on February 1, 2013. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  5. ^ Dadson, Liz (January 2, 2011). "MTO needs to make winter improvements along Highway 21". Saugeen Times. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  6. ^ LeBlanc, John. "Talkback: Your Picks for Canada's 10 Most Dangerous Roads". MSN Auto. Archived from the original on December 4, 2010. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  7. ^ Whipp 1983, p. 1.
  8. ^ Whipp 1983, pp. 9–13.
  9. ^ "Appendix No. 6 - Schedule of Assumptions and Reversions of Sections of the Provincial Highway System for the Years 1926 and 1927". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. March 31, 1928. pp. 59–61. Retrieved February 2, 2021 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ A.A. Smith (March 31, 1932). "King's Highways, Ontario". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. p. 15.
  11. ^ Whipp 1983, p. 32.
  12. ^ Whipp 1983, pp. 33–35.
  13. ^ Whipp 1983, p. 35.
  14. ^ a b "Appendix 4 - Schedule of Assumptions and Reversions". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. March 31, 1935. p. 119.
  15. ^ "Appendix 4 - Schedule of Assumptions and Reversions". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. March 31, 1936. p. 49.
  16. ^ Ontario Road Map (Map). Ontario Department of Highways. 1938–39. § Mileage Tables.
  17. ^ "Appendix 4 - Schedule of Assumptions and Reversions". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. March 31, 1937. p. 51.
  18. ^ Ontario Road Map (Map). Cartography by C.P. Robins. Ontario Department of Highways. 1938–39. § F9–G10.
  19. ^ "Operations Branch - Construction - Southwestern Area". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. March 31, 1961. p. 27.
  20. ^ Google (August 1, 2011). "Original Highway 21 Alignment North of Goderich" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
  21. ^ "District No. 3—Stratford - Construction". Annual Report (Report). Department of Highways. March 31, 1962. p. 77.
  22. ^ Information Section (July 16, 1962). "New Route of Highway 21 at Goderich" (Press release). Department of Highways.
  23. ^ Ontario Road Map (Map). Cartography by C.P. Robins. Ministry of Transportation and Communications. 1982–83. § G–H19, L18.
  24. ^ Highway Transfers List (Report). Ministry of Transportation of Ontario. April 1, 1997. p. 5.
  25. ^ Highway Transfers List - "Who Does What" (Report). Ministry of Transportation of Ontario. June 20, 2001. pp. 7–8.
  • Whipp, Charles (1983). Road to Destiny: A History of Highway 21. Petrolia, Ontario: Lambton Editorial Associates.