THUNDER BAY, ON ---- April 18, 2014 ---The PAD&W is an important piece of history and a key part of the industrial and cultural development of the area. To many this is just an old bridge, but in reality it represents a link to this past. As a history teacher I am keenly aware that physical remains such as this are infinitely more meaningful to people's understanding of the past than something such a photo. Being able to "touch" history is the best way to experience it.
The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway officially began operations in June of 1893 and the last passenger train rolled over the tracks of the Canadian National Railways-North Lake Subdivision (as it was called at the time) in March 1938. It has been 75 years since the Iron Horse rolled through the Lakehead, along the banks of the Kaministiquia River and into the Whitefish Valley to Mackies (and beyond). Very few substantial pieces of the railway are left after all these years; only the bridge over the Kaministiquia between Stanley and Harstone and the Silver Mountain Station remain.
In the spring it was brought to my attention that plans were afoot to replace the bridge with a new structure. The current bridge is not the original 1889-1890 Howe Truss bridge (it was swept away by ice in 1893), but a 1922 concrete and steel replacement built by CN. That makes it 91 years old! Time and the elements have taken their toll however, and the structure does have some deficiencies. After making some inquiries, I was assured that it would be repaired, not replaced.
Things quickly changed this week however. I was told that the Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge was again weighing the costs of replacement versus repair. As I understand the situation (to the best of my knowledge), replacing the bridge will cost upwards of $5 million dollars; repairing it will be half that amount. Obviously the trade-off is that repair work on the structure will again be required in 20 or so years.
In this day and age, fiscal prudence is of the utmost importance. Obviously spending the money now and replacing the bridge makes the most financial sense. However, as I outlined in a letter to the Municipal council, what price do we put on our cultural and historical landmarks? This bridge, and by extension the railway, represent an important link to our collective history; the railway was the main reason why many of the places southwest of Thunder Bay now exist.
Over the past 75 years, far too many traces of this railway have disappeared, overtaken by time and progress. Is this bridge to be the latest victim? As a history teacher and historian, I know that nothing is ever infinite. However I think we owe it to those intrepid railway builders and early pioneers and to our children, to do everything in our power to preserve pieces of history such as this. As is often said, without our history, who are we?
I have started an online petition, asking that the Mayor and Council of Oliver-Paipoonge make every effort to save the bridge and preserve this important piece of history. After reading this post, I would ask that you give serious consideration to signing the petition.
By Dave Battistel