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!

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