By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday November 21, 2015
Confusion surrounds push to preserve Desjardins Canal bridge
The fate of one of the city’s busiest old bridges is up in the air.
And it’s entirely possible that not one of the 5,180 drivers-per-hour who use it at peak times could name or even locate the bridge on a map.
Don’t feel bad — neither could Hamilton councillors Wednesday, despite their decision to talk to the province about preserving parts of the 84-year-old span.
The Ministry of Transportation calls the structure one-half of the Desjardins Canal bridges — basically, the east and west traffic lanes of Highway 403 that cross the old watercourse connecting the harbour to Cootes Paradise.
But in a previous life, the eastbound span was called the Longwood low-level bridge, carrying that road across the canal from 1931 until the 1960s, when it was incorporated into the highway. (The westbound span was built in the ’60s.)
The city has to act fast if it wants to influence a looming provincial plan to replace the historical bridge, said Coun. Aidan Johnson, who moved a motion Wednesday directing staff to talk to the province.
“All heritage architecture and infrastructure in the city should be protected to the best of our ability precisely because it is our heritage,” he said. “Especially if the province is going to pay for it.”
Johnson said city cultural staff alerted him to the impending bridge replacement — and an opportunity, through the environmental assessment, to lobby to retain “heritage aspects” of the concrete bridge, such as distinctive abutments.
The bridge doesn’t meet the criteria to be a provincial heritage bridge, according to the project website. But MTO spokesperson Astrid Poei said via email it’s possible the existing bridge piers could be “cut off” and preserved to “reflect the width and materials of the old bridge” with the cost of the work covered by the province.
A replacement bridge would still be built, she noted, but the remnant piers would remain as city property. Construction is slated to start next year and won’t finish until 2018.
The project website says the preferred fix for the aging canal span is to completely replace and widen the old Longwood bridge while rehabilitating the younger westbound highway structure.
Johnson argued the city has nothing to lose for arguing to preserve part of the “beautiful” bridge — even as he acknowledged being initially confused about exactly what bridge is under threat.
Councillors bemusedly searched the Internet and unsuccessfully tossed out guesses about exactly which bridge was under discussion during the meeting.
The confusion was understandable — the canal is criss-crossed by several historic spans, including the McQuesten high-level bridge and rail bridges used by CP and CN.
But unless you paddle the canal or walk the adjacent trail, you’d never realize the stretch of Highway 403 is a bridge at all.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, a former construction industry boss, expressed doubt about the idea of a partial preservation.
“In my experience, it’s not easy to save parts of a bridge,” he said. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)