Canada Road Network

By | November 17, 2022

The Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt in British Columbia.

The Icefields Parkway in Alberta.

Province Length of road network Part
Ontario 182,934 km 23.9%
Alberta 181,064 km 23.6%
Quebec 104.145 km 13.6%
Manitoba 83,021 km 10.8%
British Columbia 67,677 km 8.8%
Saskatchewan 64,810 km 8.4%
New Brunswick 27.546 km 3.6%
Nova Scotia 27,118 km 3.5%
Newfoundland and Labrador 13,581 km 1.8%
Prince Edward Island 5,575 km 0.7%
Yukon 5.453 km 0.7%
Northwest Territories 2,460 km 0.3%
Nunavut 533 km 0.1%

In 2018 Statistics Canada published the first catalog of Canadian roads. It was determined that in 2016 Canada has 765,000 kilometers of public roads, 68.3% of which is managed by municipalities. Nearly half of all roads in Canada are located in just two provinces: Ontario and Alberta. In 2016, it was determined that 59.3% of the major highways are in good or very good condition. A fifth is in bad shape. In 2016 there were 47,279 bridges under public management, of which 43.9% were on local roads, 24.6% on highways and expressways and 26.0% on arterial and collector roads. Nearly a third of all bridges in Canada are located in Ontario. In 2016, there were also 351 publicly operated tunnels, a quarter of which are located in both Nova Scotia and British Columbia. Two-thirds of the bridges were in good condition at that time and 10% were in poor condition.

According to wholevehicles, Canada has a fairly extensive highway network in the south of the southern provinces, but only Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have a larger highway network. However, in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan many 2×2 lane roads have been run over long distances, but without grade-separated intersections. East-west runs the Trans-Canada Highway, and north-south the Alaska Highway. In northern Canada there are very few roads and many places are not accessible by road, or only by driving on gravel roads for days. The distances here are very large. But even in the north of the more southern provinces, the number of roads is very limited, and on the west coast of Canada very few roads lead through the mountainous character of the Rocky Mountains.

Huge areas are not accessible by road, such as all of Nunavut and the vast northern part of Québec, as well as northern Ontario and Manitoba. The huge Hudson Bay – which is prominently visible on maps of Canada and even world maps because of its enormous area – has something mythical about it, as a prominent but inaccessible region. There are no all-weather roads to Hudson Bay, the Route de la Baie James in Québec does not go further north than the southern arm called James Bay, and the only other way to Hudson Bay is Wapusk Trail, the longest winter roadin the world. Peawanuck terminus is more than 1,000 kilometers from the nearest tarmac road. There is a railway to Churchill, Manitoba, which also has passenger trains.

National Highway System

Major routes of the Canadian highway network are designated as part of the National Highway System. This is a federally assigned network of core routes, feeder routes and northern and remote routes. It includes over 38,000 kilometers of road. It is mainly an allocation as a strategic route, the federal government in Canada hardly interferes with the development and management of the road network, this is all regulated at the provincial level.

Freeways & Autoroutes

Ontario Highway 401.

In most regions of Canada the highway network is focused on the major cities, only in southern Ontario and Québec there is a larger network of freeways and autoroutes that connect many cities. Beyond that, only Alberta has an intercity highway between Calgary and Edmonton. In addition, there are several short highways scattered in the “maritime provinces” of eastern Canada, especially in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Winnipeg is the largest city in North America without freeways, although there are divided highways.

The widest and busiest highways are found around the major city of Toronto, which has an impressive highway network, especially in the suburbs. Ontario Highway 401 is the busiest highway in the world in Toronto. The 401 also has the longest parallel structure in the world, more than 60 kilometers. Montreal also has a dense highway network, but with less capacity and very outdated design elements. The highways in Alberta are newer. Full ring roads are under development around Calgary and Edmonton.

Several sources on the internet indicate a much greater number of kilometers of highway for Canada than there actually is, for example the CIA World Factbook gives a length of 17,000 kilometers, almost 10,000 kilometers more than actually built in Canada. This is probably because ‘expressways’ also includes all 2×2 divided highways. Divided highways, also called ‘twinned highways’ in Canada, are roads with 2×2 lanes and separated lanes, with a maximum speed of usually 100 or 110 km/h. However, these roads do not have grade-separated connections and agricultural traffic is allowed to use them, which is why they are not motorways.

Road management

Canada’s roads are managed at the highest level by the provinces and territories. There are no federally managed roads. Although the federal government contributes to the costs of road projects that it considers to be of federal importance, road management and road policy are carried out by the provinces and territories themselves. At a lower level, counties and municipalities can also manage roads. The federal ministry is called Transport Canada.


Canada’s colonization began from the east to the west. The first road networks in Ontario and Québec were developed with concession roads, followed by the Dominion Land Survey from the late 19th century in the Prairie Provinces. At the beginning of the mass mobilization Canada was not yet provided with an adequate road network, in the 1930s almost all roads outside the major cities were still gravel roads. It was not until around 1960 that the main roads were completely paved. In particular, the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario in 1960 was an important milestone.

The first high-quality roads were developed in the Toronto area. However, the first highway is a short route, Highway 420 in Ontario near Niagara Falls. The first highway around Toronto was Highway 401 in 1947. In the period 1952-1956 Highway 401 was built through Toronto. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Queen Elizabeth Way was upgraded to a motorway. From that time on, car routes were also built en masse in Québec, especially around Montréal and the city of Québec. Highway 401 in Ontario was completed in 1968.

From the 1970s onwards, the growth of the province of Québec slowed down, so that few new highways were built here. However, the province of Ontario grew faster and faster and in 1973 the famous Highway 401 parallel structure in Toronto was completed. Also, from the 1970s, some highways were built in the Prairie Provinces and around Vancouver. However, Vancouver’s highway construction was very limited, it is one of the largest cities in the western world with hardly any highways. Later, highways were built in cities such as Calgary and Edmonton.

Driving on the left

When the first cars appeared on the road around 1900, there was no national convention in Canada to drive on the left or right. In central Canada people drove on the right, because of the French influence from Québec. Ontario and the Prairie Provinces also drove on the right. British Columbia switched from left to right in 1920, although Vancouver Island followed a little later in 1922. New Brunswick switched in 1922, Nova Scotia in 1923 and Prince Edward Island in 1924. Newfoundland & Labrador made the switch in 1947, but only became two years later part of Canada.

Toll roads

Canada has relatively few toll roads. Some bridges are toll roads, especially in Ontario on the border to the United States, such as the Ambassador Bridge and its connections to New York State. Surrounding Toronto is Highway 407, Canada’s first fully electronic toll road. The Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island is Canada’s most expensive toll road. There are no toll roads in the Prairie Provinces. In 2016, Canada ‘s first HOT lane was opened on the Queen Elizabeth Way in Toronto. British Columbia has a history of toll roads that became toll-free, such as the Coquihalla Highway, the Port Mann Bridge and the Golden Ears Bridge.

Winter roads

An ice road in Ontario.

In Canada, many communities, mines, and oil and gas installations depend on winter roads, which are open for several weeks of the year during the winter. They are constructed over frozen muskeg – a swampy subsoil – and over lakes and rivers. Most winter roads are in Manitoba and Ontariobecause there are relatively many remote ‘First Nations’ here, communities that consist of original inhabitants of Canada before colonization. These communities are normally only accessible by air. Usually the construction of winter roads starts in mid-December, which can then be driven on between mid-January and mid-March, in the arctic north until mid-April. These communities are supplied for the whole year during this short period.

The winter roads of the Northwest Territories are perhaps best known, especially the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road. The Northwest Territories has the northernmost winter road in North America, from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. This will be replaced by an all-weather road. There are very few winter roads in Yukon.

  • Winter roads in Alberta
  • Winter roads in Manitoba
  • Winter roads in Northwest Territories
  • Ontario winter roads
  • Winter roads in Saskatchewan
  • Winter roads in Yukon


Canadian signage resembles that of the United States, the signs are green with white lettering, with cardinal directions and large road number plates. In a parallel structure, the local lanes often have a blue sign to avoid confusion. The signs are metric.

Road numbering

The roads are numbered per province. The Trans-Canada Highway and its branches form a network of major highways, mainly running east-west, but often double-numbered with Provincial Highways. Autoroutes in Quebec have the prefix A, the other roads have no prefix. In western Canada there is some coordination in the numbering of important cross-border provincial highways. In some places, major highways in multiple provinces have the same number, most notably the Trans-Canada Highway, which is numbered Highway 1 in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and theYellowhead Highway, which is numbered in those same provinces as Highway 16. In addition, there are a number of cross-border provincial highways in this region that keep the same number. In British Columbia there is also the unique situation that a number of north-south running provincial highways have the same number as (former) US Highways on the American side of the border. There is no road numbering in Nunavut.

Maximum speed

120 km/h on Highway 5 in British Columbia near Kamloops.

The speed limit in Canada varies by province. It is, however, quite common that the maximum speed in built-up areas is 50 km/h and 80 km/h outside of it, unless stated otherwise. It is often allowed to drive 90 km/h on important and better developed main roads and 100 to 110 km/h on roads with separate carriageways. These do not necessarily have to be motorways, even on divided highways with level intersections 100 or 110 can often be driven. In the prairie provinces, these are often parts of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Yellowhead Highway. In British Columbia, a speed limit of 120 km/h has been allowed on some highways since 2014.

The highest speed limit in Canada is 120 km/h, on some highways in BC, but 110 km/h elsewhere, mainly in the Prairie Provinces. In more densely populated provinces such as Ontario and Québec, the speed limit is not higher than 100 km/h, as are the northern territories. The lowest speed limit is found on Prince Edward Island, where the maximum speed is 90 km/h.

A speed limiter is mandatory in Ontario and Québec. Trucks are not allowed to drive faster than 105 km/h here, although the maximum speed in these provinces is 100 km/h. Elsewhere, no limiters are required.

In September 2019, a test with 110 km/h was started in Ontario on three routes.


The Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island.

Province or territory City ​​limits Highway* Expressway**
Alberta 50 80 110
British Columbia 50 80 120
Manitoba 50 80 110
New Brunswick 50 80 110
Newfoundland and Labrador 50 100 100
Northwest Territories 50 90
Nova Scotia 50 80 110
Nunavut 50
Ontario 50 80 100
Prince Edward Island 50 80 90
Quebec 50 90 100
Saskatchewan 50 80 110
Yukon 50 80

* on some roads outside built-up areas 10 km/h may be driven faster (usually 90 km/h)

** freeway, autoroute or twinned highway

Road safety

In 2011, 2,237 road deaths occurred in Canada, or 58 per 1 million inhabitants. In 2014 this fell to 1,834 road deaths, or 52 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants. This is comparable to the average in the European Union. Canada has significantly better road safety than the United States, where in 2014 there were 103 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants.


In Canada, the primary form of tax revenue from motoring is fuel tax.

Fuel Taxes in Canada

The fuel tax in Canada consists of several components, which are collectively referred to as the ‘fuel tax’. In addition, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a type of VAT, is levied at federal and sometimes also provincial level.

The fuel excise itself consists of a federal part and a provincial/territorial part. In addition, some municipalities also levy a fuel tax. The federal fuel tax is 10 cents per liter for gasoline and 4 cents per liter for diesel. The provincial and territorial fuel excise tax varies widely and is between 10 and 20 cents per liter. Total fuel tax varies from 16 cents in Yukon to 39 cents in Vancouver. Alberta has the lowest fuel tax of all provinces, British Columbia and Québec the highest. Fuel taxes at the federal and state/territorial level raised $14.3 billion in 2013-2014.

Including the Goods and Services Tax, the tax burden on gasoline in Canada is around a third of the fuel price. Compared to the United States, fuel in Canada is significantly more expensive. Compared to (Western) Europe, the fuel is cheaper. The fuel price in Canada is usually € 0.70 – € 0.90 per liter lower than in the Netherlands.

Road tax

There is no road tax in Canada.

Purchase tax

There is no specific tax on the purchase of cars in Canada. However, the Goods and Services Tax must be paid. This varies by province and territory. Buying a car in another province does not provide any financial advantage because the difference has to be paid.

When purchasing a car, a vehicle permit and a license plate sticker must be purchased. The cost of this varies by province and sometimes within provinces, but is usually less than $100.

Canada Road Network