Defiant Lion Guards Queen Elizabeth Way

1939

Sir Casimir Gzowski Park

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As the 1930s dawned, a solution was required for ever-increasing volumes of vehicle traffic between Toronto and Hamilton. As a “back to work” employment project during the Great Depression, the province converted Middle Road, a country lane, into a four-lane limited access divided highway. When the Toronto-Burlington stretch opened in 1937, motorists circled around the cloverleaf at Highway 10 just for the novelty of it.

King George VI and Elizabeth on the Queen Elizabeth Way, c. 1939 (courtesy Toronto Star).

But Middle Road would never do for Canada’s first inter-city freeway. When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Ontario in 1939, the province named the highway after the future “Queen Mum,” who presided over its official opening in St. Catharines that June.

At the Toronto end, a monument was installed to mark the Queen Elizabeth Way’s start at the Humber River. The vertical column was designed by architect William Lyon Somerville, while Toronto sculptor Frances Loring created a motif for its base and her associate Florence Wyle assisted in modelling the royal profiles and the crown. Loring chose “a snarling, defiant British lion, eight feet high!” Motorists reportedly saluted the monument as they drove by.

Carved into the stone at the base of the monument was a message evocative of its time, commending “The courage and resolution of their majesties in undertaking the royal visit in the face of imminent war,” inspiring “the people of this province to complete this work in the empire's darkest hour in full confidence of victory and a lasting peace.”

Widening of the QEW during the early 1970s forced the relocation of the monument to nearby Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. Fifty years after the highway officially opened, Queen Elizabeth II officially rededicated the monument.

By Jamie Bradburn

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Queen Elizabeth Way.

Figure of the lion by sculptor Francis Loring, 2012 (photo by James Marsh). View the image gallery