‘Disappeared out of neglect’: How will Smiths Falls’ old Confederation Bridge be commemorated?

Parks of Confederation Bridge may be saved for a commemoration when the new structure is built in Smiths Falls. The town’s municipal heritage committee was tasked to come up with some ideas to remember this structure. – Laurie Weir photo

Meeting with the Municipal Heritage Committee of Smiths Falls was on the agenda of Paul McMunn, the town’s director of public works, to see what they had in mind to commemorate Confederation Bridge.

The old decommissioned bridge, which will be replaced soon, has been a hot topic for the municipal heritage committee, as they didn’t want to see the history lost with the new state-of-the art bridge that was approved by council.

During the March 12 meeting of the heritage committee, McMunn, along with the engineer for the new bridge, TSI Group, said he wanted “to get the juices flowing and get this group thinking about how best to commemorate the bridge.”

A plaque feature or salvaging some of the original bridge pieces were options to consider, McMunn said.

The committee was invited to take part in a site visit last month, where they had an opportunity to get a look at the area from a bird’s eye view, McMunn said.

What the bridge means for the town, or how it functioned historically should be considered when creating a plaque, storyboard, sculpture, or monument, he said. “It may also provide valuable insight into aspects of local history, given that these markers typically indicate some level of heritage recognition.”

The town hopes to get moving on the installation of a new bridge in 2024 McMunn noted. Regardless of what the new structure looks like, he emphasized that they don’t want to miss an opportunity to commemorate the old structure.

Heritage committee member Lorraine Allen said they’ve been working on the bridge for 14 years. It’s been “an article in our town that just disappeared out of neglect, which never should have happened.”

Since it’s been closed for about 10 years, Allen said the town has embraced walking along the concrete path on the waterway.

“And you see people there all the time. That’s what I use … as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think we need to replace the bridge. I think people are coping really well, enjoying that area. None of these bridges that we have looked at would ever come close to being what that bridge was,” she said. “Having a pedestal there with a picture of the bridge was at its heyday and a description, that’s all we need there.”

A new bridge, “would change the whole character of the park,” Allen added. “That’s a historic park … and we’re talking about taking the old water treatment plant down, so what’s left?”
McMunn referenced the active transportation plan and that the former bridge was a primary access corridor.

“It functions as a pedestrian bridge, but it’s more of an active transportation bridge,” McMunn said, for cycling, walking, or mobility devices, “or other modes of non-motorized travel.”

He said they’ve spoken with Parks Canada and they don’t want people walking along the dock-side of the canal as a long-term solution to get from point A to B, because it’s a place for boats to moor.

“It’s really not conducive to inject a whole lot more pedestrian traffic…into that area,” he said, and that’s “primarily why we’re looking at replacement of the bridge.”

What the bridge will look like will be part of McMunn’s report to committee on March 25.

Member Jenny Davis said she loved the idea of using part of the old bridge as a base to a commemoration plaque. “I love that idea,” she said. “I think it’s worth saving … looking ahead and saving what we can and try to incorporate it later.”

Another idea, McMunn said, is to add parts of the old bridge to a look-out section on the new structure.

Committee member Coun. Chris McGuire said he liked how the ideas were coming together. “It would be need to show the evolution of the site since the town has been here,” he said.

McMunn asked that the group bring their ideas to him as soon as they can.

The next meeting of the municipal heritage committee is slated for April 2, and Karl Grenke, senior planner, said he’d look to them at that meeting for direction as to how they wanted to proceed.

Ramin Rameshni, TSI engineer, said the bridge has a long history, dating back to its 1904 construction.

“Do we want to include that into the storyboard, plaque … those are the details we want the committee to start thinking about and giving us ideas,” Rameshni said. “The final design is easy enough; we can work on that later on. We want to see what is needed to be done right now.”

The committee’s homework is to research, chair Dorothy Hudson said.

McMunn said they would investigate what parts of the 1906 bridge would be salvageable and bring back that information to their next committee meeting. Most of the bridge was replaced in 1986.

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