Before the invention of modern concrete, travellers were able to cross muddy, swampy grounds by building “corduroy roads”—paths that were constructed of logs laid perpendicular to the direction of the route.
Canada’s first travel routes were the rivers and lakes used by Indigenous people, travelling by canoe in summer and following the frozen waterways in winter. The water network was so practical that explorers, settlers and soldiers followed the example of the Indigenous people. The first graded road in Canada was built in 1606 by Samuel de Champlain and was 16 km long stretching from Port Royal to Digby Cape, Nova Scotia. In 1793, an Act of the first Parliament of Upper Canada placed all roads under the supervision of overseers, called path masters. Early road development was accomplished by a system of “statutory labour,” which required settlers to maintain the road adjacent to their property or to work 3 to 12 days each year on road maintenance. Over time, the statutory labour system was commuted into payment of a fine in lieu of labour, creating the first source of funds for road expenditures.
In Simcoe/Grey County, many of the early pioneer roads can still be found as shown below. Sometimes, they’re easy to see and other times a bit of research gets you there!