Where the streets have no name

The origin of Winnipeg’s metro route system

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Some of Winnipeg’s longest streets don’t have names. They are the numbered routes created in the 1960s by Metro Winnipeg.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/11/2021 (461 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some of Winnipeg’s longest streets don’t have names. They are the numbered routes created in the 1960s by Metro Winnipeg.

The Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg, Metro for short, was created by the province in 1960. It was a second tier of municipal government tasked with overseeing regional issues such as transportation, water and waste, and development for Winnipeg and its surrounding municipalities. It lasted until the implementation of Unicity in 1972.

A big challenge for Metro was moving traffic efficiently across numerous municipal boundaries. An American-style freeway system that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and tear neighbourhoods apart was not in the cards. It would have to use the existing street network to which it would add bridges and interchanges. The goal was, where possible, to start and end the routes at a provincial highway.

Supplied photo Metro Route signs began going up in January 1967, as shown in these photos from the Jan. 9, 1967, issue of the Winnipeg Tribune.

Municipalities had to give up jurisdiction over these stretches of road to Metro. In return, Metro was responsible for funding their maintenance and the cost of any new road infrastructure.
Winnipeg’s chief streets engineer, W. H. Finnbogason, told a reporter in 1965 that it was a bold plan and that “no other city in Canada is doing this.”

The 21 Metro Routes were announced in 1965 with signage to be installed and route maps printed the following year. (There was a rush to get the system in place before the 1967 Pan American Games, which would bring tens of thousands of visitors to the city.)

The issue of naming the routes came up in the fall of 1965 with what the city had nicknamed the “Crosstown Highway” in its planning stages. Metro Route 60 ran through the heart of the city, using Osborne, Colony, Balmoral, Isabel, and Salter streets and would extend further south the following year with the completion of “Confusion Corner” and the St. Vital Bridge.

Winnipeg city council’s suggested names for the route included Metropolitan Driveway, Centennial Boulevard, and the favoured Jubilee Highway. Metro had the final say over names and rejected them all in favour of a highway-style numbered system, though individual municipalities were free to continue to use local street names along them.

Metro opted for two-digit numbers ending in zero for north-south routes and in five for east-west routes. The system worked fine for high and low numbers, such as Route 20 or Route 90, but there was a problem with routes 40, 50, and 60. Police found that some drivers not used to driving in the city mistook route signs for speed limit signs.

Metro opted for two-digit numbers ending in zero for north-south routes and in five for east-west routes. The system worked fine for high and low numbers, such as Route 20 or Route 90, but there was a problem with routes 40, 50, and 60. Police found that some drivers not used to driving in the city mistook route signs for speed limit signs.

Initially, Metro refused to admit there was a problem but in spring 1967 were ordered to find a solution. It changed those routes to 42, 52, and 62. It bore the cost of hundreds of new street signs, but it was too late to recall the 300,000 maps printed for the Pan Am Games.

The Metro Route system has undergone many changes over the decades. Today, there are 24 routes which are considered part of the city’s Truck Route system. The city’s public works department is responsible for maintaining them.

Christian Cassidy

Christian Cassidy
What's in a Street Name?

Christian Cassidy believes that every building has a great story - or 10 - to tell.

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