Sep 072012
 
Abandoned Highway 524 bridge

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.

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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.

Be sure to comment on this post (below pictures).

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.

To see some other bridges we’ve explored, follow these links…
Bridge hunting – Bullpound Alberta.
Bridge hunting – Carmangay Alberta.

If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Near Hays Alberta.

Highway 524 bridge

Looking from the current highway to the old bridge.

Highway 524 bridge Hayes AB

The old highway 524 alignment.

Abandoned road bridge

Looking north – note how narrow the bridge is.

Hays AB Highway 524 bridge

In spite of being abandoned it’s a pretty decent shape.

Abandoned Bow River bridge

Looking east down the Bow River.

Highway 524 bridge Ronalane AB

There is a single hole in the decking, big enough for a person to fit through.

Abandoned Highway 524 bridge

The north end has this abrupt corner.

Old highway 524 alignment

After coming off the bridge, the road makes a wicked turn left.

Abandoned bridge Bow River

Looking south.

Old road bridge Hays AB

Underside details – a very sturdy bridge.

Bow River Hays AB

Looking west. The Bow River here is shallow and slow.

Bow River bridge Hays AB

This bridge was originally constructed to support a canal syphon.

Bow River bridge Highway 524

The wooden approaches.

Canal Hays Alberta

Near the bridge, one heck of a waterslide. Actually, the drain from a nearby irrigation canal.

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21 Comments on "Highway 524 abandoned road bridge"

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Don Walde
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Don Walde

I believe this bridge was constructed originally to carry a water siphon from the canal on the east side to the abandoned canal system that seems to end north of Redcliff. Possibly around 1912

Don Walde
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Don Walde

This Link may help explain what went on here. forgottenalberta.com/2010/07/12/the-alberta-land-company/ (broken link)

RomanyStew
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RomanyStew

Great photo’s Chris, do you know the story as to why the canal was never used?

Jason PS
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Jason PS

Bridge in nowhere…wow

Alberta West Historical Society
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Alberta West Historical Society

I’m impressed, this post and your blog as a whole is both informative and entertaining. You have hit the nail on the head, this is a great article. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this during my hunt for something relating to this – I was looking for information on failed irrigation projects in Western Canada. This bridge is a fascinating piece of that history.

Dan Overes
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When I lived in Vauxhall in the early 90s we would use this backroad as our way of traveling to Medicine Hat versus going down Highway 36 to Highway 3 and then across. I have great memories of spotting this bridge for the first time and it quickly became one of my favorite places. I drove across it many times before the road was realigned.

Aaron Eslinger
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Aaron Eslinger

When was the road realigned?

D, Stewart
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D, Stewart

Just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your site. Your post inspired me to stop at the abandoned Highway 524 road bridge near Hays in September of this year. I thought it was a site well worth seeing. I have nothing to add to the history that you found out. I took some photos and have encouraged some friends to check out some stuff off the beaten path.

Reg greenfield
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Reg greenfield

Do you or anyone know when the highway bridge burned down at Ronalane? My dad was the section foreman for CPR and it was in the mid 50’s

C Tom Grusendorf
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The canal from this area to Suffield was built by horse power. Teams of horses pulling scrappers. The same crews also built rail beds. My Great uncle worked on some of these projects. The canal was never used due to both money problems and due to a survey error. The canal in the Suffield area area was something like a foot too high, so water would never run the length of the canal.

C Tom Grusendorf
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Also, remember in the mid 1950s traveling through the area, Hays, Tilley, Suffield seeing the canal. When the section roads were built, they simply bulldozed the banks of the canal in and built the road across it.

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