This abandoned bridge caught us by surprise. We were heading for another such structure in the area, the old CPR span over the Bow River near Cecil Alberta, when this one came into view. When heading north on Highway 524 near Hays Alberta, this structure can be clearly seen in the valley just east of the current river crossing.
Since the theme for the day was bridges, why not stop and take it in.
It’s an interesting structure, clearly well made and in good shape. But it’s narrow and has a wicked sharp turn off the north end, and the old approach roads from the prairies above are steep and winding. So while well constructed, all of this must have been a bit of a challenge to drivers, if not downright dangerous at times.
I can see two cars approaching from opposite directions and the drivers wondering if they can fit past each other. And the odd bend in the north end of the bridge followed by a sharp turn on the road could catch you by surprise. To negotiate you’d have to slow down to a crawl. I can’t fathom what it was like in winter when the wind was howling and things were slippery.
I am sure everyone had a collective sign of relief when it was replaced with the current safer set up.
Bridges often have builders plates telling us the date they were made. I looked high and low and could not find one. Nor could I find any information much about it online, so for the time being anyway it’s lineage is a bit of a mystery (see updates).
Just to the east of the bridge is an incredible water channel, a very steep concrete trough dropping down form the prairie above. This is a drain for one of the irrigation canals in the area. Not much would grow here if water was not brought in.
The area around the bridge is quite remote and supports a very small population and the whole time we explored the structure only a few cars passed on the other bridge. The valley was so quiet is was easy to hear them. Even on the plains above the valley, houses and farms are few and far between.
The Bow River here is wide and shallow and slow and it meanders through this wide valley taking it’s sweet time to where ever it’s going. The same river passes through the town I live in, Calgary. Even this far east the river is still crystal clear – prairie rivers are often muddy.
Update November 2012: A mystery uncovered. I have heard from multiple experts and it’s been confirmed that the bridge was originally to be used to support a syphon coming in from a nearby irrigation canal (built in the early 1910s). Initially I thought this was odd, but by going on Google Maps, an abandoned canal can be seen ending directly above the bridge on the north side. This old canal lines up perfectly with the in-use canal on the south side of the river with the bridge lying directly in between them.
With that in mind it’s then assumed that when the canal plans fell through the bridge was then converted to road use. The structure is pretty substantial, almost like a train bridge. If this syphon was built, it certainly would have been an engineering marvel and the drop down from the plains above is quite substantial.
The old canal mentioned can be followed for may dozens of kilometres, ending near Suffield Alberta. Clearly it was well built but never used.
Update January 2013: This author has seen a picture dated 1915 that shows this same bridge looking very much as it does today. This date would tend to further support the bridge being built around the time of the canal and that its original purpose was to carry that syphon spoken about earlier. The dates, its location, it all seems to fit.
At the time of that 1915 photograph the bridge was already being used for vehicular traffic, the syphon having never been built. The whole irrigation project north of the bridge was abandoned the year before.
For our report on the nearby abandoned CPR Suffield Subdivision bridge over the Bow River, follow this link…
Abandoned CPR Bow River bridge.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Near Hays Alberta.