Introduction: Beyond Calgary
Calgary is home to five historic steel truss bridges, each over a hundred years old, constructed between 1907 and 1912.
This was the City’s Age of Optimism, the first of economic boom in Calgary.
Four of these bridges were built by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, the company which would build all of the municipal bridge projects in Calgary during this time period. They would complete a total of 8 projects for the City of Calgary over a span of 6 years.
The City of Calgary appears to have been the Company’s biggest single customer, and half of the extant structures are in Calgary (Note 1).
And while the focus of this publication and my research remains on the structures in Calgary and the work done here, I would be remiss if I did not provide an overview of the other structures across Canada.
To date I am aware of 4 still-standing bridges, 1 in British Columbia, 2 in Manitoba, and 1 in Ontario.
If you know of any other bridges (standing or torn down) or have any other information about the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
This article will be updated as any new information comes to light.
Driving west of Calgary following the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway #1) about an hour past the City of Kamloops, British Columbia, you’ll find a Walhachin Station Road.
Less than 2km down this road towards the Thompson River, is the black metal Walhachin Bridge, which connects the tiny hamlet of Walhachin BC (itself a few more kilometres down the road) to the highway and the rest of the province.
The origins of Walhachin are similar to the real estate boom that was Calgary’s Age of Optimism. Both were the product of European settlers who were flooding into the Canadian West at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The village was founded by the American Engineer C. E. Barnes in 1907. Barnes saw the potential for irrigated horticulture in the area and purchased 5000 acres of Crown Land.
As Calgary was during this period, Walhachin was a popular destination for “second sons” of British gentlemen.
“Second sons” were the second born male children of wealthy aristocrats who did not stand to inherit the family title and were often pushed to join the clergy or the army.
For many second sons, Western Canada was a popular alternative.
The outbreak of the First World War, however, saw most of the village’s men enlist in the armed forces. Many of the newly enlisted soldiers’ families returned to the United Kingdom during the war.
Walhachin was a thriving village of approximately 300 people, however, the departure of much of its population was a blow it would not recover from.
The Bridge itself was built in 1911 (with funding provided by the Provincial Government) by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, with design work provided by the firm of Waddell and Harrington Consulting Engineers.
The roles of both the Government and Engineers are included on the builder’s plate. The plate is a very different design from the usual builder’s plate found on bridges built by the Company.
However, as with the plates found on the other bridges constructed by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, it is prominently placed at the centre of a truss over the roadway.
Dean Lake Bridge
Located just off the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 17), near the village of Iron Bridge in Ontario, is the Dean Lake Bridge.
Located in the municipality of Huron Shores, north of Huron Lake, the bridge crosses the Mississagi River. Also known as the Thompson Bridge ,it connects Dean Lake Road and provides access to Dean Lake and the North Channel Islands Provincial Park.
The bridge was a project of the Government of Ontario and cost $26,000.00, approximately $550,000.00 in 2016 dollars.
The project was championed by William Ross Smyth, Member of the Provincial Parliament for Algoma East from 1902 and 1908. He was widely credited with securing provincial funding for the project.
Plans for the bridge were submitted on September 24, 1907 and construction would be complete one year later.
Regarding who built the structure, the History of the Dean Lake Bridge by Gord Campbell, contains this single statement:
“The bridge was constructed by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd. of which no record has been found of the company.” (Note 2)
November 27, 1908 a grand opening for the bridge was held, attended by Federal and Provincial politicians including Sir James Whitney, then the Premier of Ontario.
The Dean Lake Bridge has a builder’s plate with the same design and appearance of the builder’s plates found on most of the Algoma Steel Bridges, however, there is noticeable difference: instead of listing Winnipeg, MB, the city where the bridge was supplied from is shown as Sault Ste. Marie, ON.
Wawanesa Steel Truss Bridge
The Wawanesa Steel Truss Bridge (commonly known as the Black Bridge) is a small bridge located near the former village of Wawanesa in what is now the Municipality of Oakland-Wawanesa, southeast of Brandon, MB.
Constructed in 1908, this bridge was designed by Archibald McGillivray, who was originally from Ripley, ON and would have distinguished career building roads, bridges and other public works throughout Manitoba. McGillivray Boulevard in Winnipeg, is named in recognition of his contributions to the Province.
Crossing the Souris River, this structure is 46 metres (150 feet) across. A recognized historic site by the Province of Manitoba, the Wawanesa Steel Truss Bridge was closed to all traffic except pedestrians in 2013.
Winnipeg’s Louise Bridge
Outside of Calgary, there is only one other Algoma Steel Bridge still standing that is located in an urban setting (Note 3).
The Louise Bridge in Winnipeg, Manitoba can be found just outside the city centre, crossing the Red River. The bridge connects Higgins Avenue in Point Douglas to Stadacona Street in the neighbourhood of Elmwood.
Similar to Calgary’s 9th Avenue (Inglewood) Bridge, this structure occupies the site of the first crossing in the city.
The current bridge is the second structure to cross the Red River at this location. The first bridge was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881 and later converted to for the use of city traffic.
The first bridge was removed in 1904. The current Louise Bridge was built on the substructure of the original CPR bridge.
The structure was by far the Algoma Steel Bridge Company’s most ambitious project. The bridge has three spans and includes a rotating middle span which swung open to allow for the passage of river traffic.
Given the scope of the project, it is perhaps not surprising that the Company faced several challenges in delivering the new bridge on schedule.
Winnipeg’s City Council invoked the forfeiture clause in the bridge contract and charged a penalty for the construction delays. However, Winnipeg’s Council did note that the delays were not entirely the fault of the Company.
Like many other landmarks across Canada, the Louise Bridge is named for Princess Louise, the sixth of Queen Victoria’s nine children. (Note 4)
Princess Louise was married to John, Marquess of Lorne the 4th Governor-General of Canada, although her time in Ottawa was unpleasant. The Province of Alberta takes its name from her middle name, as does Mount Alberta. Lake Louise is also named after the Princess.
As with other aging but historically significant infrastructure there is an ongoing debate about this structure’s future. Various plans for the replacement of the bridge have been made, although to date, the city has not moved forward with these plans.
At present the city is considering building a new bridge which would divert traffic away from this part of Winnipeg. The Louise Bridge would be retained for local traffic.
- Any figures for the total number of known structures should be considered conditional, as there may still be rural bridges not yet located and added to this article.
- The History of the Dean Lake Bridge, written in 2008 is considered to be the most comprehensive document on this particular structure.
- Most sources (but not all) indicate that the Company was based in Winnipeg, MB. The Company also submitted an unsuccessful bid for Winnipeg’s Redwood Bridge.
- Calgary also has a Louise Bridge, which was for a time commonly believed to have been named for the Princess, but which was actually named after Louise Cushing.
Campbell, Gord. 2008. History of the Dean Lake Bridge. Iron Bridge, ON. Huron Shores Museum.
Goldsborough, Gordon. 2013. Memorable Manitobans: Archibald McGillivray (1874–1936). Winnipeg, MB. The Manitoba Historical Society.
Goldsborough, Gordon. 2015. Historic Sites of Manitoba: Wawanesa Steel Truss Bridge. Winnipeg, MB. The Manitoba Historical Society.
www.winnipeg.ca. 2005. Chronology of Major Bridge Construction in Winnipeg. Winnipeg, MB.
Quieter Elephant Blog. 2015. Walhachin Ways. Walhachin, BC.
The Edmonton Bulletin Newspaper. December 22, 1911. “Winnipeg Council Clause Forfeit” on Page 5. Edmonton, AB.
Image 1: Flickr user cmh2315fl. 2010. Walhachin Thompson River Bridge. Walhachin, BC. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 2: Flickr user waferboard. 2013. 130709–16. Walhachin, BC. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 3: Flickr user cmh2315fl. 2010. Walhachin Thompson River Bridge Builders Plaque. Walhachin, BC. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 4: Flickr user cmh2315fl. 2012. Dean Lake Bridge. Dean Lake, ON. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 5: Flickr user cmh2315fl. 2012. Dean Lake Bridge Builders Plaque. Dean Lake, ON. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License.
Image 6: Flickr user cmh2315fl. 2012. Dean Lake Bridge. Dean Lake, ON. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 7: Marsh, Houston. 2010. IMG_8134. Wawanesa, MB. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 8: Robert, Flickr user itchycam. 2008. Red River. Winnipeg, MB. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
Image 9: Highfield, William. 2015. Foggy day in Winnipeg. Winnipeg, MB. Photograph accessed via Flickr under Creative Commons License. Image edits: cropped to Medium.com size and aspect ratio.
The author would like to express his gratitude to the photographers for making their photographs available via Flickr under Creative Commons Licensing.