Sep 092014
:Lethbridge High Level Bridge

The Canadian Pacific Railway’s massive Lethbridge Viaduct, or High Level Bridge as it’s more often called, is over a century old and is a holder of many North American and World records. Most noteworthy, it’s the highest and longest steel railway trestle on the planet. A sight to behold, it’s on such a scale that it’s actually quite hard to fully grasp its true size. A long freight train can fit on it with plenty of room to spare. The structure is so well known that its become sort of an unofficial symbol of the city of Lethbridge.

This is a then and now post and we look at the structure twice. The first photo is from around the 1920s – at least that’s what the person who sent it to us states. That looks about right based on the railway equipment seen. Our photo is from August 2014.

While the city of Lethbridge, which surrounds the bridge completely, has changed a great deal since the original photo was captured, from our angle it’s not all that evident. Buildings from downtown can be seen peeking out over the top deck in our shot, otherwise what’s seen today is much as it was then. Amazing really. It’s an oddly static element in an otherwise dynamic and ever changing and growing city. Right behind our shooting position is a huge housing development – it was likely a field when the old picture was caught on film. In the old days, Lethbridge did not extend out to the west side of the bridge. The whole town was on the east side.

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The only other obvious changes in between the then and now pictures is the amount of vegetation seen. It’s grown up a bit in the passing decades.

It took a number of years to construct the bridge, which was finally completed in 1909. A huge undertaking, it costs a tidy sum to build and likely made the CPR’s bean counters a bit nervous in the process. Even with its high cost, the bridge saved the railway a great of money in the long run. It allowed them to bypass a steep and circuitous high maintenance route further to the south, which was both an operational headache and a severe bottleneck.

At over a kilometre and half long and close to a hundred metres high over the Oldman River, it took countless rail cars worth of steel to complete the structure (five or six hundred I am told). A special travelling crane was used to help place the various girders and decks.

There are a total of thirty three steel towers supporting the structure, each resting on four concrete piers. The deck is comprised of numerous plate girder spans, sixty six of them in total, along with one deck truss section over a steep escapement that precluded placement of a support tower at that location.

In typical railway fashion, the High Level Bridge was overbuilt. It has no problems supporting the much heavier and longer trains of today. BTW, there is a High Level Bridge in Edmonton, which is not to be confused with this one.

We had hoped to catch a train in our photo, but went away disappointed. It would have helped round out the story even more. The steam powered train is seen on the old photo reminds us that at one time passenger trains were quite common. They’re all gone now for the most part.

Over the years a number of people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge. One fellow parachuted and got in BIG trouble. I wonder if the crossing is somewhat frightening for train crews? Given its height, it must be a bit unnerving.

The railway line seen is the CPR’s Crowsnest Subdivision. It’s a fairly busy section of track and for one is a conduit for coal heading east out of southern British Columbia.

A second bridge was built to this same pattern and around the same time, only it’s half the size, and is found a little to the west. To read about it scroll down to find a link to that report.

There is a publicly accessible viewpoint allowing one a good view of the bridge, just south of our shooting position. As well there are parks and public greens spaces at its base. All of this means that photographing it is easy and does not require one to trespass.

For our now shots the images are not manipulated in post production, outside some very minor scaling. They are not cropped to make things fit. We line it all up at the camera level – thank goodness for the grid view setting! This one turned out reasonably well although the bridge appears to drop away more in our shot when compared to the original. We can never match every thing exactly anyway! There are too many variables and the like. Getting close is fine.

The old image was scanned from a vintage print. It’s in the public domain as far as we known and was sent to us by a reader of this blog, Randy Stewart of Lethbridge. He makes mention of some writing (in many languages) on the photo but did not state what exactly is being said.

If you have an old image like this and would like us to visit the location seen to find out what things looks like today, and then document it all in this blog, let us know. We can accept actual photos (they will get returned) or scanned copies. Images must be yours or in the public domain. Contact information can be found below.

To see the High Level Bridge’s smaller twin, follow this link…
Bridge hunting – Monarch Alberta.

To see some interesting then and now posts, go here…
Legends of the Fall – then and now.
Calgary then and now – Dominion Bridge.
West Canadian Collieries #1 – then and now.

Check out this article…
Beachwood Estates – Seph Lawless/Joseph Melendez shout out!

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: August, 2014.
Location: Lethbridge, AB.

Lethbridge Viaduct

The famous Lethbridge Viaduct, as some point in the 1920s.

:Lethbridge High Level Bridge

We were disappointed a train did not show.


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2 Comments on "Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Lethbridge Alberta Viaduct"

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David James Perkins
David James Perkins

An amazing engineering marvel. Thanks for documenting it.

DJ Perkins, Gull Lake Sask.