In animating the history of Canmore, we decided to focus on smaller objects to reduce the scope, and so we took aim at the Engine Bridge, and therein found a mystery. Namely:
- Why did the current steel bridge look so close to the previous wooden one,
- Where did the steel bridge come from,
- And why does it hold faceplates from 1880 when it wasn’t constructed in Canmore until 1919?
The story I always heard was that after the original wooden one burned down, it was replaced by a re-purposed bridge from out East. But when we look at the old photos, that doesn’t entirely seem to hold up. Here is a different possible interpretation:
This is Canmore circa 1900: the CPR has built a wooden stay bridge over the Bow River where the ford used to be, and where skiffs where pulled across. You can see three wooden stay arches with no cross tops:
This is a rough blueprint:
Then, in 1914, it seems that the bridge was improved for stability by raising at least the first two spans and securing them across the top. This looks surprisingly like the current steel bridge, but predates it by 5 years and is built from wood:
Again, here is an approximate blueprint:
Apparently, having wooden cross beams over top of spark-emitting smoke stacks isn’t the best long-term design, as the bridge caught fire and was destroyed in 1919. Now, here is where the steel bridge comes into the picture and what is curious is just how closely that it matches the previous wooden design. However, it is face-plated with the Toronto Bridge Company name and the date 1880, a full 39 years before construction in Canmore.
Did this bridge exist somewhere else and get dismantled and brought to Canmore? If so, would it have been worth the effort to cut it all apart? Would we see cutting marks where the rivets had been chopped? How come it looks so close to the previous wooden design?
An alternate hypothesis is that it did not exist previously. Instead, the Toronto Bridge Company actually ceased to exist in 1881 – being renamed the Dominion Bridge Company and moving to Montreal where it found a huge amount of work and fame building the great CPR bridges there. The DBC was very close with the CPR.
What may have happened then, was when the Canmore bridge burned down, the CPR requested any emergency solution from the DBC, who basically said: “Raid the old warehouse in Toronto and take what you need.” and the CPR did so, and simple rebuilt the same design which had worked well, but in steel. Time was of the essence to make sure their coal supplies were not disrupted, so no other design was considered – they simply built upon the piers that existed, except that the steel allowed them to span and ignore the third one.