The forerunner to today's Ministry of Transportation of Ontario — the Provincial Department of Public Highways — was created in 1916 with a staff of 35. Later that year, another four people joined the department in the motor vehicles branch. At the time, there were about 52,590 registered vehicles. The province had already started issuing vehicle licences in 1903 and licences for chauffeurs in 1909.
As early as 1896, the government appointed a provincial road building instructor to improve the skills of municipal road builders. Although there were no provincial highways then, there were 88,550 km of county and township roads.
In 1917, the province took over the first section of provincial highway — the Kingston Road — a 74 km road between Highland Creek and Port Hope.
By 1925, there were 338,400 licensed vehicles in Ontario and drivers paid the first gasoline tax — three cents a gallon. Two years later, drivers were required to obtain an operator's licence. To qualify, Ontario's 444,500 drivers had to pay $1, be over 16 years old and have more than six months of driving experience or 535 kilometres or 500 miles.
Construction of the longest multi-lane divided highway in the British Empire — the Queen Elizabeth Way — began in 1931 and opened in 1939. In the 1950s and '60s, Ontario's highway network spread. In 1952, Highway 400 opened between Toronto and Barrie; in 1960 the last link of the Trans-Canada Highway was completed through northern Ontario and an 820-km stretch of Highway 401 opened in 1968.
The ministry devoted major resources to research and developed light rail transit and transit services for people with disabilities in the 1970s and '80s.
In 1993, the province created the Ontario Transportation Capital Corporation to develop innovative financing for major highway and transit construction projects. The corporation works independently, in partnership with the private sector and with the ministry, to reduce costs, improve efficiency and ensure the timely completion of projects.