Ice Roads in Ontario

If you’ve ever driven in Ontario during the winter, you’ve likely dealt with icy roads. But what about entire roads made of ice? Let’s go over what ice roads are and what to do if you come across one.

What Are Ice Roads?

An ice road, also known as an ice bridge, is a human-made structure that goes across a frozen body of water.

Ice road construction begins in November by testing the condition of the ice. A route is planned based on where the ice is thickest. Snowcats fitted with plows or blades are brought in to remove the snow, allowing the ice below to firm up. Once the ice is strong enough, heavy machinery comes in to finish the job, making sure the road is solid and safe.

After several weeks of preparation and testing, the road is opened to the public. Ice roads are maintained throughout the season until they begin to melt away in April or May.

Ice roads can be individual structures connecting two shorelines, but more often, they’re a part of winter roads.

Winter Roads

Winter roads are seasonal paths that run over land, but occasionally cross frozen water surfaces, as well. When a winter road crosses over a large expanse of frozen water/floating ice, it’s considered an ice road.

Each year, these roads are built to connect remote regions and First Nations communities to a permanent highway or railway system from mid-January to spring. These regions don’t have any “all-season” roads, so they rely on these temporary routes to get supplies during the winter.

Winter roads have many benefits, including these:

  • easier (and cheaper) transportation of essential goods and services to northern communities
  • creation of jobs for First Nations members involved in building and maintaining the roads
  • increased access to minerals and other resources to promote economic growth in remote communities

There are over two dozen Northern Ontario winter roads.

Crossing Frozen Cracked Blue Dettah Ice Road
The amazing frozen Great Slave Lake.

Where Are Ice Roads?

In Canada, ice and winter roads are most common in remote regions. You’ll find most of them in British Columbia, the Yukon, and especially the Northwest Territories. They’re built in Northern Ontario too, however, so it’s important for anyone driving in the area to know how to navigate one.

Click here to see a map of all the winter roads in Ontario.

How to Use Ice Roads in Ontario

Despite what you may think, ice roads can be just as safe as regular roads. Don’t worry–you’re not driving on thin ice!

Ice roads are very thick and can confidently hold the weight of your passenger vehicle. The potential danger comes from reckless driving and carrying extremely heavy loads. Most ice roads can support up to 60,000 lbs. of stationary weight. For ice road truckers, the trick is to keep moving. When a vehicle is in motion, the weight capacity of an ice road jumps up to 100,000 lbs.

All ice road drivers must pay attention to speed limit and vehicle spacing signs. Maintaining a steady speed and a generous space between yourself and other vehicles will limit pressure on the road.

Standard are ideal for ice roads. Tire chains can damage the road surface, but it’s okay to keep them in your truck for emergency situations.

Other things to keep in your vehicle when going over ice roads include these items:

  • shovels
  • food
  • blankets and warm clothing
  • communication devices

Preparing for Winter

As you brush up on your ice road etiquette, don’t forget to prepare your car for the rest of what winter can throw at it.

Remember to switch over to winter tires before the first snowfall. Putting together a winter emergency kit is a good way to give yourself some peace of mind when travelling long distances in the snow. Besides ice road driving, adapt your other driving habits to take on winter with confidence. If you’re interested in what else happens on the ice in Ontario, check out this article on ice racing.