Spanning the Elbow River just before it empties into the Bow, the 9th Avenue road bridge connects the Calgary downtown core with communities to the east. Built just over a hundred years ago, this fine old structure sees heavy use and as such, according to the city anyway, is wearing out. Is anyone giving thought to saving it, or will it just get replaced? Given this is Calgary, I fear the latter.
Built in 1909, it has seen the passing of horses and buggies, autos and until 1950, streetcars. On the west side is the old Fort Calgary site and the East Village, as that part of downtown is now called; and in the east, historic Inglewood, once one of Calgary’s premiere working class neighborhoods, later something more downtrodden, and now going through a rebirth of sorts (read: gentrification).
The bridge uses a Parker style truss for support, sometimes referred to as a Parker/Camelback or simply Camelback Truss. This is a common variant of the Pratt Truss, differing only by how the top cords are arranged. In the Pratt design, they are flat, in the Parker they are segmented and form a gentle arch of sorts. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, with the Parker being lighter, just as strong, but a bit more costly to engineer and construct. From an ascetic standpoint the Parker is more visually appealing.
Looking at the structure it’s suffering a bit from corrosion but otherwise seems solid and straight. It survived the nasty spring 2013 floods without any obvious damage that we could see.
Thus far there have only been rumblings from the city in regards to replacing it with no hard plans as yet put forward. But they’re talking about it, which does not bode well. I expect there will be an uproar in the community, and amongst those who fight to preserve our ties with days gone by, should the possibility of its replacement happen. This won’t be so much due to the chaos caused by construction, although I suspect it’ll be a problem, but more so over the loss of a very important part of Calgary’s past.
It might be a tough fight. The city and those who live here, it seems, have no room for old structures like this, no matter how historically significant they are.
This author asked around to engineer types and many shake their heads on hearing of the issue, wondering why the bridge could not simply be rebuilt in place? There are techniques, I understand, that allow this to be done easily and without breaking the bank.
The manufacturer of the structure was the Algoma Steel Bridge Company of Winnipeg Manitoba. This firm is believed tied to the huge Algoma Steel company of Sault Ste Marie Ontario and only operated for few short years (say around 1908-1911). Their output in that time must have been modest based upon the research we’ve done. We could only find a small number of bridges standing today that were constructed by them. This one has a maker’s plaque affixed to a crossbeam above the roadway on each end.
Beside this bridge, there are three others in Calgary, two very close by and another far away, which were built by the Algoma Bridge Company using the same basic design. Since they’re all related in a way, we’ll discuss them here.
The first, the MacDonald Avenue Bridge, is just upstream from 9th Ave and is almost identical in appearance, albeit only two lanes wide. It was built in 1911 and given the road it supports is quieter, seems to have a stable future.
Not far away is the St George’s Island/Zoo Bridge crossing the Bow River. It’s a wider water course so the span in greater then the 9th Avenue crossing. It supports two lanes of traffic but is very narrow overall. It was built in 1908 and is also under thereat of being replaced. Expect us to report on this bridge soon.
Lastly there is the Shouldice or Hextall Bridge, crossing over the Bow River far to the west end of the city, near the community of Bowness. It dates from 1910 and has two very narrow lanes like the Zoo crossing. It’s no longer used by auto traffic and is excursively for pedestrians and cyclists. No worries of it coming down.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the 9th Avenue Bridge in the upcoming years. Will it fall, or will the city come to realize that not everything needs to be bulldozed? Time will tell but I won’t hold my breath.
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Date: February, 2015.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article sources: Calgary archives, Algoma Steel Bridge Company records.
Everything seen here is publicly accessible