OLiV Tasting Room & Bistro

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Chew On This!

Chew On This! at OLiV Tasting Room & Bistro: The QEW and Garden City Skyway

We drive on roads and highways and across bridges every single day. These urban arteries act as our vital circulatory system moving us to where we need to go. This infrastructure is entrenched in our daily lives. We hardly notice the pavement, concrete support beams, guard rails, and other intricate, purposeful details of the roads and bridges in St. Catharines. Not only have they shaped the layout and streetscapes of our city, they have also shaped our history and sense of identity. 

The Queen Elizabeth Way, 1939
STCM S1939.43.12.2

A young girl looks up at a sign erected shortly after an official announcement that the new four-lane highway passing through
St. Catharines would be named in honour of Queen Elizabeth. The highway was officially dedicated by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their visit to Canada in June of 1939.

The QEW was initiated as a labour relief project during the Great Depression and flaunts the title of the first four-lane divided freeway in North America. As the popularity of the automobile increased, the new highway was to provide a faster, more direct connection between Toronto and the Niagara border with the United States. However, the consequence of creating an easy transportation route was the loss of vital agricultural lands and significant impact to how the areas surrounding the QEW would grow and develop in the future.

The QEW Crossing the Welland Ship Canal, 1954
STCM 2338-N

The new highway cut directly through the valued Fruit Belt, one of the few areas in Canada capable of growing tender fruits like cherries and peaches. The rich soil found between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario was covered with gravel to open space for automobiles. Still, the early vision for the QEW emphasized a scenic “park-like” feel. Early photographs in the Museum collection, like the one above, show the QEW lined with trees and surrounded by farmland. Over time, the lands on either side of the QEW were eventually developed and built up with businesses and small manufacturers that could benefit from easy highway access.

Though we often don’t think about it, the route of the Queen Elizabeth Way, planned in the 1930s, heavily influences the way we move through our city today. At the time of the QEW’s opening, St. Catharines was bursting at the seams and ready to increase development northward into Grantham Township, which was mostly farmland. The arrival of the QEW meant north-south routes like Ontario St., Lake St., Geneva St., Vine St., and Bunting Ave., were cut and divided, and a natural distinction grew between the neighbourhoods situated north of the highway, and those south of it. 

Introducing the Garden City Skyway, 1960
STCM S1960.26.3.2

In the 1950s, highway and canal traffic increased drastically. The solution to this traffic problem, however, took the route soaring above the city.
Construction on the Garden City Skyway began in 1960 and the new high level bridge officially opened to traffic in 1963.

Building the Skyway
STCM S1961.85.6.17

The Garden City Skyway became a symbol of overcoming the challenges of terrain and priorities of transportation. Using new technologies and innovative designs similar to the construction of the Burlington Bay high level bridge, the Skyway would rise above the highest masts of passing ships on the Welland Canal. Here, rows of the concrete support beams of the Garden City Skyway are shown mid-construction in 1961.

Building the Skyway, 1961
STCM S1961.7.4

The engineering that went into building the Garden City Skyway was a marvel at the time. The steel beams pictured here were built by Niagara Structural Steel. Due to such innovations, highway traffic would no longer be delayed by lifted bridges and marine traffic through the canal. Motorists could move through the city more smoothly and at a faster pace.

Building the Skyway, 1961
STCM 2006.77.1801

The Garden City Skyway is now arguably the most visible and impressive infrastructure of modern-day St. Catharines, rivaling only the Flight Locks and the Burgoyne Bridge. In fact, it is the tallest and largest single structure along the entire Queen Elizabeth Way. The bridge itself it is over two kilometers long, with about an additional three kilometers of gently rising approach roads.

This photo shows the bridge is still under construction in 1961. The two leaves of the double-leaf Homer Bridge are open to allow for the ocean-bearing vessel ‘Tulse Hill’ to pass along the Welland Canal.

When drivers passing over the Skyway look south, they have a clear view of Lock 3 and the Flight Locks of the Welland Canal. Sometimes, if they are lucky, a ship will be passing underneath, with the Homer Bridge lifted. This view is a quintessential symbol of industry and innovation in modern St. Catharines.