Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Million dollar bridge spans Peace River

by Beth Wilkins

Construction of the superstructure of the $900,000, or Million Dollar bridge as media were want to call it, began the latter part of May 1918, but not before the substructure was completed with some ice-related delays.
It was noticed during the high water in the spring of 1917 that the blunt ends of the deep water caissons offered such a resistance to the current that erosion was apt to result. It was decided to point the upstream end of piers 6, 7, and 8 of the 10 piers holding the bridge’s 11 steel spans in place. Other modifications were made to make the now 90-year-old steel structure sound.
The throughspan of the steel bridge provided a clearance of 65 feet above low water and 48 feet above extreme high water – high enough to allow river navigation by even the largest of sternwheelers, such as the D. A. Thomas, which required hinged stacks to allow its passage. The deckspan, on the other hand, offered only 19 feet clearance above high water.
Work, by up to 250 men, on the much-anticipated bridge was a 24-hour a day enterprise, accompanied by the inevitable noise associated with heavy construction.
For its first half century, the first bridge across the world-famous Mighty Peace River served several purposes – railway, vehicular, and pedestrian traffic. Its multi-purpose use caused some concerns and provided many interesting anecdotes, but served its users well. It does to this day, although vehicular and pedestrian traffic cross the river by way of the transportation bridge completed in 1968, which is just north of it.
The railway bridge is 1,736 feet long with 11 steel spans set on concrete piers and abutments. The structure had no guardrails or decking to enable horse teams and vehicles to cross safely until successful, vigorous lobbying by the Peace River Board of Trade encouraged the approval of the Government of Alberta for the additions.
It is said that the Million Dollar Bridge is the most important single item of construction to be brought to a successful conclusion in Western Canada during 1918. Its importance cannot be emphasized enough. At the time of its building, land suitable for soldier settlement was being sought. The transportation facility connects the markets of the world to the wonderfully rich Peace River Basin and as importantly, the Peace River Basin resources – agriculture, mining, lumber and oil to the rest of the world. During the Second World War, it provided a vital link to the West conveying men, equipment and goods.
(From: Peace River Museum Archives and Mackenzie Centre notes; Ribbons of Steel, by Ena Schneider; Sense of the Peace by Roberta Hursey; Peace River Remembers)

Council of the Town of Peace River invites you to an Open House at the historic NAR Station, Dec. 12, 3 p.m.-7 p.m. to help celebrate the 90th anniversary of the completion of the Million Dollar railway bridge spanning the Mighty Peace River.

Keep an eye out in the Record-Gazette for more historic articles from Museum writer, Beth Wilkins!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Peace River Museum announces...

...our very first Virtual Exhibit on the Virtual Museum of Canada's website, entitled: "Peace River, 1780-1914: From Athabasca to the Last Great West". Dallas Wood has worked very hard on this exhibit and we are proud to launch it. The exhibit tells the story of Peace River in it's very early days! Starting from Aboriginal Peoples of the area and moving through the explorers and fur traders and ends with the formation of the village of Peace River Crossing in 1914. We encourage all Peace Riverites to check it out at the Community Memories Website
and use the search bar to find our exhibit. (Just a note, the results are listed alphabetically, so you will have to skip ahead a few pages to the "P" section.) We also encourage you to check out many of the exhibits on this site. There are many fascinating contributions from Museums all over Canada.

The Peace River Museum and Archives would also like to put a callout to our community. This Remembrance Day, we have really been searching for information about out local veterans. We would like to encourage everyone in Peace River to bring in any stories and information you may have about your ancestors being involved in any military conflicts. The Museum will be compiling this information and make it available to those researching the military history of Peace River. We welcome any donations related to the veterans of the Peace River area and currently have an exhibit with some of the artifacts and stories that have been collected over the years at the Museum. We will be open from 12-4 pm on Remembrance Day and resume normal hours on Wednesday, Nov.12.
World War I soldier, James Mitchell (PRMA73.550.F.2)