The Lethbridge Viaduct, also known as the High Level Bridge, is of course a well known landmark and the longest and the highest steel rail trestle in the world. Towering over the Oldman River it’s located right in the middle of the city and can be easily seen from any number of vantage points. Built over a hundred years ago, it’s as famous today as it was then.
Little known however is a very similar looking bridge not terribly far away and while not as high or long (but huge none the less) it’s still an impressive piece of engineering. Located some couple dozen kilometres west of Lethbridge, this structure, known as the Monarch Bridge, Monarch Viaduct or CPR Oldman River Bridge Monarch, unlike its counterpart, it’s rarely visited.
Built around the same time as its larger cousin, our bridge was the final cog in a new bypass route, allowing the CPR to both shorten the distance and lessen the grades between the towns of Lethbridge and Fort Macleod. This new line was constructed in the period of 1908-1909 and while the route was no doubt expensive, it offered so many improvements over the old line making it very worthwhile. The railway had a new route and everyone associated with this major undertaking must have been very proud.
The steel for this bridge was constructed by the Dominion Bridge Company of Walkerville Ontario (sometimes called Canadian Bridge Company), the pieces being brought in by railcar as they were completed. Sharing much in common with the Lethbridge Viaduct it is an almost carbon copy of the latter only “tiny” in comparison. The famous “erection traveller” first used in Lethbridge was also used here.
Opening to traffic in late 1909 – some documents oddly says 1911 which seems off – the two bridges and the new route were quickly put to good use. The old line was abandoned and dismantled right after, although one can still find traces of the roadbed in places.
Standing some 48m above the river, this trestle is about half the height of it’s well known counterpart. Our bridge is 576m from end to end, while the Lethbridge Viaduct is over a kilometre longer. In spite of its “small stature” compared to its big cousin, don’t kid yourself, this mass of steel is huge and quite a sight to see.
The Monarch Bridge is located on the CPR’s Crowsnest Subdivision, running from Lethbridge to its namesake town at the Alberta/BC border. Some dozen or so trains use this track a day (highly variable) but alas they were camera shy and none appeared during our visit.
To access the bridge one travels west of Monarch. At a bend there is a side road that leads right to the structure. If you have a high clearance vehicle you can drive the final distance, but we elected to walk in not wanting to scratch our car on the brush that crowded the road.
While exploring the structure we discovered two crosses. Not in a field, not beside the bridge, but right smack dab in the middle between some girders. Why they were placed here is anyone’s guess and this certainly goes down as one of the more interesting places we have found a memorial cross. Rest in peace, although that might be hard given the endless parade of trains that noisily pass by.
Close by but not explored by us on this visit is the site of an old sandstone quarry along the banks of the Oldman River. On Google Earth one can still see ghosts of the old rail line in amongst the quarry scars. This stone was used to construct many buildings in both Lethbridge and Fort MacLeod and also elsewhere. I plan to return as time permits.
Prior to visiting this bridge, we did a study of a nearby bridge in Carmangay Alberta. While smaller still and a bit newer that one looks remarkably like the one seen in this report. That trestle, dating from 1927 is located on the CPR’s Aldersyde Subdivision, not the Crowsnest line as seen here. There is a link below where you can take a look at it.
While walking the access road to our destination a friendly dog decided to join us. From out of nowhere! While we explored she kept herself busy. She climbed a berm, jumped from rock to rock, chased a rabbit, never stopping the whole time. Part thoroughbred and part mountain goat, she even made her way down the trestle, going perhaps couple hundreds metres before I saw what she was doing. Without fear she peered over the edge, but as soon as called, she came right back. She was very friendly, obedient and a joy to be around. Later we found out she lived at a house that was about 2km away and she raced us on the road as we drove by (running safely in the grass beside the road). This dog had endless energy and was faaaaaaast!
If you are paying good attention one can see this bridge from the #3 highway just west of the town of Monarch, albeit from quite a distance.
Note: I have used bridge, trestle and viaduct interchangeably in this report and this structure can technically be called by any of these terms as it has traits of all those mentioned. A bridge is of course self explanatory. A trestle is a bridge with a large number of closely spaced supports. Finally, a viaduct is somewhat similar to a trestle in description, being a bridge with numerous small spans connected together. Some say a viaduct can’t span water, but this makes things too confusing and we’ll ignore that loose rule.
This author has seen this bridge referred to by many names – Monarch Bridge, Monarch Trestle, Monarch Viaduct, Oldman River Bridge, etc.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2013.
Location: Monarch, AB.