Using 779 herbarium and modern specimens, we reconstructed the spread of the common reed (Phragmites australis) in Quebec, Canada, where large-scale invasion of this plant species has been reported since the 1960s. All specimens were genetically differentiated using molecular tools to identify the genotype (native or exotic). The exotic genotype (haplotype M) has been present in Quebec as early as 1916, but it was rare prior to the 1970s and was almost exclusively restricted to the shores of the St. Lawrence River. The exotic genotype spread inland only after the beginning of the 1970s. In less than 20 years, a complete shift occurred, from the dominance of native genotypes to the dominance of the exotic genotype. Today, more than 95% of common reed colonies found in Quebec are dominated by the haplotype M. It is especially abundant along roads, but colonies present in marshes are also dominated by the exotic genotype. This study provides evidence that, in Quebec, the development of the highway network in the 1960s and 1970s strongly contributed to the inland expansion of the exotic genotype. Moreover, it shows the usefulness of molecular techniques for reconstructing the spread of an invader. Without the use of molecular tools, the reconstruction of invasions of exotic taxa would be impossible because of the lack of clear phenotypic differences between genotypes.