Monday, February 5, 2007

Winnipeg's Historic Bridges

Winnipeg's Historic Bridges

"How the city's investment in an expensive bridge
growth and prosperity to Winnipeg"

by George Siamandas

The city's first bridge was the Louise Bridge. It was built in order to attract the CPR through Winnipeg instead of Selkirk. They bypassed the Forks which was known to be prone to flooding and built it on the current site of the Louise bridge. It was named after Princess Louise one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters. Opening day was hot and the opening speeches unusually long that August day. It was so long that the parched crowd made a run for the refreshments and wiped them out in minutes. The next day's papers chided Winnipeggers for their rude behaviour at this grand event.

For 15 years the Louise bridge carried not only the train, but pedestrians and their horses and wagons. By 1904 the CPR no longer used it and discontinued their $100 per month "rent" payment for use of the bridge. In 1911 it was replaced by the current Louise Bridge. It cost a substantial amount of money for 1881: $300,000. And on top Winnipeg had to grant land for all the right of way, a train station and a large site for the CPR marshalling yard. As expensive and as one sided it was, the decision to build that first railway bridge was the greatest investment in the effort to improve that city's future prospects.

The oldest bridge still standing would be the Redwood St Bridge completed in 1908, followed by the Louise in 1911, the Elm Park in 1914, and the Provencher 1917. St. Vital Bridge opened on Dec 16 1965. Typical construction was in metal. The first bridges needed repairs in 15-20 years. Up until the 1950s metal was the only long span option. Open grid decking. But in the 1960s salts started to deteriorate metal substructures. Led to the need for replacements in 1970s. A 100-year life is planned on now. There are some bridges on the books that were never built such as one for Grant Ave east. Others like the Charleswood were planned for 40 years.

The first Provencher Bridge connecting Broadway to Provencher lasted just a few days. Built on timber piles, the spring ice flows removed it four days after it opened in 1882. The original Main St Bridge was built privately in 1881 and was taken over by the city in 1882. It lasted till 1897. All bridges then were designed with the need to open up to allow riverboats to come through. Toll bridges were built by the private sector to develop areas, if owned a lot you had free access. Street cars lines also determined where bridges were needed.

This one crosses the CPR yards and was not easy to get built as ratepayers rejected its funding two years running. Finally it got the go ahead in 1909. It has long been rumoured that the Arlington St bridge was originally built to cross the Nile in Egypt and how it later ended up in Winnipeg. It was indeed designed for Winnipeg as its width would not have spanned the much wider Nile. That it was built in Birmingham England by the Cleveland Iron Works which also did bridges for places around the world, probably lead to this speculation.

Winnipeg's only major bridge disaster was in 1937 when the 330 ton counter weight in the old Maryland bridge fell on the deck at 3:00am. Earliest river crossings were by ferries that began as early as the 1840s. Up until the 1870s approximately 8 ferries operated within Winnipeg. And apparently only one functioned with public support.


bbhilda said...

I have received an e-mail through my website ( from a lady in the UK who is a relative of a man named John Ward who was fatally injured while working for Canada Foundry Co. He was crushed in 1911 while building a bridge at the 'end of Main Street'.
She is requesting the name of this bridge, and a photo if possible. I have discovered that it was just south of the Union Depot, and it has been described as TCR bridge, National Transcontinental Railway bridge and GTP bridge.
Can anyone pinpoint this bridge? I was wondering if it was the railway bridge near the baseball stadium? Where was the Union Depot? The Union Station hadn't yet been built had it?
My search hasn't come up with any railway bridges that were built in 1911 or 1912.
Hope someone can help this lady.

bbhilda said...

I forgot to say that I also know that this bridge spans or spanned the Assiniboine.

bbhilda said...

The more I am digging, the more I am answering my own question! Of course it couldn't be the bridge near the CanWest Global Park, as that one spans the Red. So I think I have narrowed it down to the rail bridge that crosses the Assiniboine parallel to the Main Street twin bridges. Does anyone know the name of this bridge? Even better, does anyone have a photo of it?

junk collector said...

I am looking for any kind of information about the bergen cut-off bridge. Dates of construction, maps, when it was decomisioned and why they stopped using, map of winnipeg at the time of constructio, and any information about this particular rail line. I was also wondering if anyone had any information about the winnipeg steel bridge company. there used to be a bridge close to where I live that was constructed by this company

G said...

Is this bridge in question not the structyre that was modified into the foot bridge at the Forks, where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meetÉ

Bart said...

My father worked for Dominion Bridge Company in Winnipeg from the early 50's to his retirement. I know this company built a lot of bridges and steel structures for building, even the origonal roof structure over Rainbow Stage. It would be nice to see a section on Dominion Bridge and it's contribution to Winnipeg on your excellent website.