There are three very interesting bridges spanning the mighty Columbia River all a stone’s throw from downtown Trail British Columbia. One is over a hundred years old and not long for this world, it’s going soon, further upstream and under construction is a structure that will replace the former. A bit more upstream yet again is a huge highway bridge with graceful arches, half a century old or so and quite impressive in design. We’ll simply walk about town for a couple hours, taking them all in.
Trail was founded in the 1890s. If there’s one thing the place is known for is that giant smelter smack dab in the middle of the city, looming over it like some monster, you can’t miss it, and dating back to the early days. This huge metal processing plant will be a backdrop to our adventure this day. Roughly eight thousand people call Trail home and due to the challenging terrain, the place is remarkably compact in nature (when it comes to steep roads, San Francisco has nothing on this place). The US border is not terribly far away, just a few clicks to the south. East Trail is located on the opposite bank.
The first structure to span to cross the Columbia here in town dates from 1911. No one seems to know the builder, but Dominion Bridge, the country’s most prolific producer of the era, seems to be mentioned by some as a good candidate. Who knows? Before completion, if one wanted to get from East Trail to Trail proper or back they had to travel a long distance to bridge crossing well upstream. Or they could risk the ferry.
But damn that river is treacherous, deep, fast flowing and wide. The risks were many. More than once the ferry broke free of its cables and “got away”, sometimes with people on board. There were other incidents and accidents as well. Forget it! With that a push was on to build a proper crossing, the first bridge seen in our photos. Give its importance, it opened, understandably, with much pomp and ceremony.
It’s built to a through Pratt Truss form (a common design), and is pretty unremarkable in that respect, if not for its length and the engineering challenges the builders had putting it in place. The current here is murder. The piers holding fast against the flow are steel caissons filled of concrete and sunk deep into the river bed. The roadway is one lane wide, necessitating one way at a time traffic. There’s a walkway on one side and a pipeline support on the other. The structure is pretty much as built and retains a great deal of historic integrity.
The bridge was the only crossing until the Victoria Street Bridge was built in the ’60s. Afterwards, the “old bridge”, as it came to be called, was used as a secondary road bridge, then later exclusively for foot traffic before closing altogether recently on being deemed unsafe. No longer used of course its fate is sealed. It’s a date with the wrecking ball.
Some experts are calling bull hockey on that saying with a bit of work it’d be fine. They suggested keeping it as a pedestrian bridge, a standing monument, an homage to the town’s past. One insider we spoke with suggested politics (so patronage) and not that inferred beyond-repair state is the true reason it’s going. Regardless, it’s going. To many it’s just a ratty old bridge anyway, nothing but scrap metal, so who cares?
The only thing that’s kept it around since being closed to all traffic is that pipeline mentioned earlier. It’s still in use and needs the bridge for support. This line will later be routed to the new pedestrian bridge being but just upstream, and with that the old bridge can come down. Whether it will or not right away, is anyone’s guess. I bet its demolition will be costly.
Further up river and carrying a road four lanes wide is the Victoria Street Bridge. It’s also a highway through route. This massive structure is supported by a series of graceful “tied” arches. This one, it’s confirmed, was built by Dominion Bridge and was completed in 1961. This was a busy time for highway infrastructure construction in the province, under the direction of flamboyant Minister of Highways head honcho “Flyin” Phil Gaglardi.
The bridge enters Trail right beside the massive Teck Smelter, the biggest in the world we’re told. They process metals like lead, zinc and silver here. This plant puts the heavy in heavy industry and drives the local economy.
Between the two bridges mentioned so far and under construction on our visit is the third and last we’ll document today (okay a lie, we later recorded a small railway bridge for the heck of it). Called the Columbia River Skywalk it’s a cable stayed suspension bridge and will be for pedestrian use plus will also carry that rerouted pipeline spoken of earlier. In effect, it’ll function as the new “old” bridge. We watch workers, on a suspended cable trolley, connecting beams that make up the structure. A storm rolled in about this time, so they quickly retreated to land while took refuge under a big tree. It poured and poured for over an hour. Calling Noah, you’re needed in Trail!
This new bridge is due to open late in 2016.
The Columbia River, by volume, is one of the largest watercourses in North America. After meandering across eastern BC for a time, it enters the US just south of Trail before emptying into the Pacific at the Washington/Oregon border. It’s not a river you want to fall into.
More spans of interest…
Bridge Hunting – Waneta British Columbia (not far away).
Empress Subdivision Bridge (remains of huge train bridge).
Bridge Hunting – Rosebud River Valley.
Bridge Hunting – Bullpound Alberta.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2016.
Location: Trail, BC.
Article references and thanks: Trail.ca, HistoricBridges.org, BC Ministry of Highways.
All the bridges can be viewed from public roads or green spaces.