The Algoma Bridges File
An Overview of Three of East Calgary’s Historic Bridges
This is the first in a series of articles I am writing about the historic through-truss bridges of Calgary, exploring these structures’ pasts and possible futures.
The Age of Optimism
The first years of the twentieth century was the time of Calgary’s first major economic boom, leading to a surge in population and development.
The boom was fuelled by real estate speculation (peaking in 1911) followed by a much smaller economic boom, which was triggered by the discovery of oil in Turner Valley. All of which came to an end with the outbreak of the First World War.
During this period the city’s population grew from approximately 8,000 in 1903 to over 40,000 by 1914. Calgary had become Canada’s 10th largest city.
It was during this time that much of the shape of modern Calgary was formed: the abolishment of the named streets in 1904 in favour of numbered streets, the incorporation of villages such as Riverside (on the site of Bridgeland), Rouleauville and Crescent Heights, the construction of City Hall and many of Calgary’s sandstone landmarks.
Neighbourhoods such as Inglewood, Ramsay, Mount Royal and the East Village begin to emerge.
In 1909 the Calgary Municipal Railway opened with two streetcars and it was the decision (made earlier that decade) to create a streetcar system that would shape the young city.
The coming of the streetcars would shape the city’s street grid, prompt the construction of the underpasses (subways) from downtown to the south of Canadian Pacific’s tracks and the construction of many of Calgary’s bridges.
East Calgary’s Steel Bridges
Today Calgary has four remaining steel bridges in the neighbourhoods of Inglewood, Ramsay, Victoria Park, and the East Village. All four of these bridges continue to carry traffic, primarily automobile traffic now.
The history of the most well known of these bridges, the 4th Street SE Bridge, is covered in Article #2: Odd Bridge Out.
The other three of the four remaining historic East Calgary bridges were built by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Limited of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
These three bridges (in order of construction) are the St. Georges Island Bridge at 12 Street S.E., the Inglewood Bridge at 9th Avenue SE and the MacDonald Bridge connecting 12th Avenue SE and MacDonald Avenue SE.
A forthcoming article will discuss the fourth extant bridge also built by this company: the Hextall (formerly Shouldice) Bridge in Bowness. It has been converted solely to pedestrian and cyclist use.
The company built other bridges in Calgary which have since been removed, such as the Victoria Bridge and the 2nd Street SE Bridge. Other known structures built by this company included a railway bridge in British Columbia and Winnipeg’s Louise Bridge built in 1910.
A Very Brief Bridge Primer
All bridges regardless of type can be divided into three main components:
- Substructure: the components of the bridge that connect the overall structure to the ground, whether at the shore or piers in the middle of the body of water being crossed.
- Deck: The portion of the bridge that carries traffic. A bridge can also be divided into spans, connecting one portion of the substructure to another.
- Superstructure: The portion of the bridge that supports the deck between the substructure components.
All of the historic East Calgary bridges have visible superstructure which supports the traffic deck, in a form called a through-truss. Other types of bridges using trusses may feature the deck on top of the superstructure.
The three Algoma Steel Bridges all have superstructures that are variations of a Parker Truss, a common type of truss bridge popular from the mid 19th Century into the 20th Century. Bridges of this type could be build from wood, iron and steel and were often assembled at a manufacturing plant and then disassembled for transport to the construction site.
These types of bridge superstructures were often relocated from one site to another if the structure was still sound but was otherwise being replaced to increase the capacity of a particular crossing. This happened a number of times in Calgary and the Algoma Steel Bridge Co. relocated structures for Calgary in a number of instances.
St. Georges Island Bridge
In 1904 the Dominion (Federal) Government granted the three islands in the Bow River to the City of Calgary to be used as recreation sites, on the condition that the city spends at least $100.00 a year on improvements.
In 1908 the city contracted with the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd to build a bridge to St. Georges Island, the biggest of the three Bow River islands. There were virtually no automobiles in Calgary at this time, the first having only arrived about 1906, and the bridge is designed and built with horse drawn carriages and foot traffic in mind.
The bridge is built from wrought iron with concrete piers. The company described it as a “Class ‘D’ Country-Highway Bridge” in the contract with the city. The cost of the bridge is $20,750.00.
The Inglewood Bridge (or 9th Avenue SE Bridge) sits on the sight of Calgary’s first river crossing. It was intended to connect Fort Calgary with Calgary’s first civilian settlement, which was located on the east side of the Elbow River.
The current structure, constructed in 1909 by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd, is the third structure at that site. The contract with the Algoma Steel Bridge Co. also included the relocation of the previous structure to a site crossing the Bow River from the north side of St. Georges Island to the village of Riverside, now Bridgeland.
The current structure was built in order to facilitate the expansion of the Municipal Railway down 9th Avenue into what is now Inglewood. The previous structure was not able to handle the weight of vehicles crossing, especially Streetcars.
Built from steel and concrete, it is a single span described in the contract by the company as a “Class ‘A’ City Street Railway Bridge.” The entire contract, including the relocation of the old span, cost the city $24,880.00.
The MacDonald Bridge was built to connect 12th Avenue SE to what eventually became the neighbourhood of Ramsay.
As with the Inglewood Bridge, this structure was a replacement for a previous structure. It was built in order to accommodate streetcars, the weight of which could not be handled by the previous bridge, which was reportedly a pedestrian-only bridge.
The contract with the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd for the superstructure for this bridge and for a bridge superstructure at 2nd Street SE (known as the Victoria Bridge, which has since removed) and cost the city $34,800.00.
Unlike the other Algoma Steel Bridges built in Calgary, the Algoma Steel Bridge Co. only built the superstructures for these two bridges.
The substructures for both bridges were built by a local contractor by the name of Frank Fehrenback, who was contracted to both the MacDonald and Victoria crossings for a cost of $20,402.00 (Note 1).
This bridge was named after Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald.
The president of the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Limited was a man named Alexander Y. Bayne, of Minneapolis, Minnesota (Note 2).
Bayne was born in 1855 (some sources report he was born in Ohio, others in England) and he was school teacher prior to joining the Minneapolis-based bridge building industry (Note 3).
In 1903 he went into business for himself, establishing A.Y. Bayne & Company, constructing bridges and acting as an agent for his former employers.
Bayne was not an engineer or architect himself, but rather started as a construction foreman and then later was a salesman and agent.
Bayne was a very productive and historically significant bridge builder, building structures across Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, some of which are now preserved as historic sites in these states.
By some accounts, his company was the third largest bridge builder in Montana prior to the state’s department of highways taking charge of bridge construction. In 1914 he established the Minneapolis Bridge Company, (the third company to take that name) which continued building bridges into the 1930s.
Our American Cousins
Beginning during the last half of the nineteen century and continuing well into the twentieth century, Minneapolis was the centre of an expanding bridge building industry that came to dominate the trade in the American mid-west.
The history of these companies has been compared to a family tree, started by two builders named Commodore P. Jones and Seth Maurice Hewitt. Bayne was an agent of their firm, Jones & Hewitt, from approximately 1883/1884 until the dissolution of their partnership (Note 4).
From this firm would spring a number of significant bridge builders in the United States, including the Gillette-Herzog Manufacturing Company (for whom Bayne would also work), the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company and the giant American Bridge Company.
The American Bridge Company would be formed in 1903 by a merger of nearly 20 Minneapolis based companies and it was for this company that Bayne would continue to act as an agent for, even after establishing his own company.
At this time the industry in Canada was dominated by firms such as the Dominion Bridge Company, the Hamilton Bridge Company, the Central Bridge & Engineering Company and the Canadian Bridge Company the builder of the current Langevin bridge. American firms had virtually no presence in this particular industry in Canada.
The common assumption has been that the Algoma Steel Bridge Company was affiliated with the Algoma Steel Company, then owned by the Lake Superior Corporation.
This company is still in operation as Essar Steel Algoma Inc, however, aside from the similarity of name there does not appear to be direct evidence that these two companies were affiliated. A request for additional information has been sent to Essar Steel Algoma Inc and this section will be updated once their response is received.
The presence of Alexander Bayne as president and promoter of the Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd, places this company and its bridges in the industrial family of the Minnesota Bridge Builders.
Alexander Bayne died during the second decade of the twentieth century, with an exact date uncertain (reports vary from 1914 to 1918), but undoubtedly there is much more of his story still to be told.
The Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd seems to have died with him. The last known bridge built by this company dates to 1911.
The investigation is ongoing.
- In the case of the other two East Calgary Algoma Steel Bridges, the substructure was also included as part of the contract (although it may have been further subcontracted) and thus far, I have not found the reason why this contract was split this way.
- Several sources have listed “Algoma Steel Bridge Company — President A.Y. Bayne” in Minneapolis, MN, contemporaneous with noted bridge builder Alexander Y. Bayne of A.Y. Bayne & Co. and the American Bridge Company.
- According to The Book of Minnesotans, which was based on what the individuals self-reported, A. Y. Bayne was from Ohio. However, other sources, such as National Historic Registration Forms in the United States, list his birthplace as being England.
- Professor Frederic L. Quivik of Michigan Tech lays out the ‘family tree’ of this apprenticeship in the Journal of Industrial Archaeology. It seems there is a Canadian branch to add to this family tree.
Gardner, Denis P. 2008. Wood, Concrete, Stone and Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Leslie, Jean. 1994. Glimpses of Calgary Past. Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises Ltd.
Marquis, Albert Nelson (editor). 1907. The Book of Minnesotans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the State of Minnesota. Chicago, IL: A. N. Marquis & Company.
Marshall, Herbert and Southard, Frank A. and Taylor, Kenneth W. 1936. Canadian-American Industry: A Study in International Investment. Toronto, ON: The Ryerson Press.
McLennan, William. 2005. Where the Elbow Meets the Bow. Calgary, AB: Fort Brisebois Publishing.
Quivik, Frederic L. 1982. Historic Bridges in Montana. Denver, CO: U. S. Department of the Interior National Park Service.
Quivik, Frederic L. 1984. “Montana’s Minneapolis Bridge Builders.” IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology, Vol. 10, No. 1: 35–54. Houghton, MI: Society for Industrial Archeology.
Welin, R. A. 1977. The Bridges of Calgary 1882–1977. Calgary, AB: The City of Calgary.
Much Thanks to Corporate Records and Archives of the City of Calgary and the Calgary Public Library.
All photographs by Jack Hope ©2015. All rights reserved.
Strictly A River Crossing Article #1: The Algoma Bridges File
First Published June 30, 2015
Updated and Edited on August 3, 2015