Local officials proudly pose with road construction equipment in the Camden East area, north of Napanee around 1900. Most roads were earth roads. The best roads were covered with gravel and stone. By 1928, the earliest year of recorded national statistics, 83 per cent all Canadian roads were earth roads with no covering.
But there were all sorts of innovations. Wood block and brick roads were tried in the cities. Plank roads were popular for a time in the 19th century as they were smooth. But these roads were doomed because the planks decayed quickly and rarely lasted more than five years.
Large cities began using asphalt after manufacturing during the 1870s and 1880s provided a necessary cost breakthrough by the end of the century.
Not surprisingly, most rural roads were poor. Winter travel was hampered by wind blowing in snow
drifts. Ontario passed an act to encourage roadside planting in 1871. That was amended in 1883 so that municipalities could pay farmers 25 cents for each tree planted on either side of a roadside fence.