City sleeps while mystery bridge decays

When the Ottawa Humane Society left Champagne Avenue there was some sort of contractual agreement they had to offer the land to the city. For parkland. Nothing said the city had to buy it. So they didn’t. And as a taxpayer, it is sort of pleasing to see the 20 storey student residence there, and its bigger twin tower (28 floors?) going up beside it. They will pay millions in property taxes every year, and didn’t require one new inch of road or watermain. Pure profit. Intensification at work.

You cannot economically build a residential tower over a rail line in Ottawa as the engineering costs exceed the value of the “free” land (or land rights). But back in the day I suggested the city take some of that tax revenue stream from the  dog shelter development and put it toward covering a block of the Trillium Line cut to make park land. Of course, city staff promptly escalated the design to make it too expensive and the idea was dismissed. Dumb taxpayers and their wishful thinking, and all that.

So whilst cycling on the east side of the downtown (getting out of my silo, so as to speak) I noticed this wonderful asset hidden in the overgrowth:

It’s a bridge. Over the Rideau River. To Porter Island. With the requisite chain link fence closing it off. Other than the wooden decking, it is apparently in excellent structural condition. After all, it was made about 1894 and things back then were made to last (compare this bridge, and the Prince of Wales, to the cut-short life of those 1980’s overpasses that were part of the Transitway and weren’t sound enough to be used for the LRT, or the Hogs Back Bridge dead after only a half life, or the dying Queensway bridges…).

So why not slap down a new deck and open it up to the public? Great views of the river. Useful functional connection to Porters Island. Great place to sit on a bench and fish or smoke pot.

Ah, not so fast. First, we’d have to give a huge contract to consulting engineers to determine if it is fully up to date safe, you know, like the transitway and carp river and airport parkway bridges. And with the Prince of Wales Bridge estimate for structural repairs and putting to use now edging toward $800,000,000 (yes, you read that right, but I am only repeating rumours here, so who really knows…) one can expect a dilly of bill.

And who would pay? In my mind, it is a recreational bridge, so the parks dept, even though it isn’t a square grassed area with a fence around it and an adjacent parking lot. But perhaps it could stay a transportation bridge, since we are sort of, gradually, kinda getting used to ped bridges (Corktown, Adawe, Hickory) being popular and – gasp – genuinely useful. Lets throw in some heritage dollars too, since it is a heritage structure.

Pratt Truss Patent 3523

The bridge is a Pratt-Truss pin-connected bridge and is probably unique in the city, although the Alexandra Interprovincial bridge is of a somewhat similar design. It was likely designed by City Engineer Robert Surtees, who designed the more elaborate Minto Bridges, and built by Dominion Bridge, who established a manufacturing facility in Vanier.

The only possibility of a bridge like this being converted into a modern and ongoing use is if the public demand it. And the politicians then jump out in front of the parade to lead it. If the city doesn’t want to save or use it, it will throw up endless roadblocks and escalating costs til everyone gives up.

It’s one of those instances where logical arguments don’t work so well as an emotional appeal. I recall the original proposal for a downtown > west bike route ( ) seemed doomed until it caught the imagination of some politicians, including the one who demanded, aggrieved, where was “Bike-east”? Without overselling the importance, the proposal simply hit the right place at the right time, caught a favorable wind, etc. If it hadn’t been that proposal, something else would have come along.

By the way, 2018 is municipal election year, and T2 is having a hard time shovelling infrastructure money out the door.

Now where is that politician that needs a parade?

10 thoughts on “City sleeps while mystery bridge decays

  1. A good story; it is hard to understand how in one minute the city claims it has no money and yet in the other breath, the government appears to be drowning in lapsing funds for infra-structure improvement. Examples of the Pratt truss pin-connected bridges are becoming scarcer and scarcer yet, they were at one time common place throughout the Ottawa Valley. Your idea makes excellent sense and would provide yet another way for folks to enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the lower Rideau River.

  2. Hi Eric- There’s just one thing- The bridge crosses over to The Rockcliffe Retirement Residence located on Porter Island . I worked there for five years. Homeless people were camping out under the south end of the bridge and often wandering over the bridge onto the Rockcliffe’s land sometimes harassing staff and residents. The north end is on a very secluded part of the property where staff parking is located. The Residence is a 24 hour operation and the staff were really worried about harassment when accessing their cars especially at night. One staff member was chased at knife point but she managed to reach the main entrance safely. (The back entrance is from the dinning room and it’s locked after dinner service.) The main bridge to Porter island is monitored by Security Staff and cctv. So really you have to look at where this bridge leads to before wanting it opened up. It’s rare that I disagree with your views but I have to in this case.

    1. The behaviour of people around a closed, overgrown and neglected bridge should perhaps influence one in designing the rehabilitation and reopening of the bridge, but not determine whether or not we rehab it. Should we never make the POW bridge open because today there are lawbreakers and vandals and crime around it? Should abandonned buildings never be rehab,d because of their sidewalk influence today?

      The act of rehab and new life will change behavior , more people present deters crimes and activites better conducted in the dark, the seniors res on the islands will make changes when more people use the bridge, res and visitors alike.

      1. Hi Eric- What I failed to mention is that the property the bridge leads onto is private and trespassing is not only discouraged but rules against it are enforced. So people crossing the bridge would just be told they are trespassing and asked to leave. The other facility on Porter Island, The city-owned long term nursing home enforces a no trespassing policy on it’s back grounds as well. Essentially unless you’re visiting one of the residents there’s not much to see except for a round about between the two buildings with a wooden swing and a flag pole in the middle. So, sorry I still have to disagree with you wanting the bridge open. You might want to try and visit the extensive park like grounds around the Chinese Embassy instead! It’s just a stones throw ,(or quick bike ride), from Poster Island. As for the POW bridge I believe the land on either side is open to the public. The grounds around the north side have long been known as a cruising area for gay men. Just as interesting as the Chinese Embassy but more easily acssessed by the public.

      2. I also should have mentioned the bridge was not always closed when I worked at the Rockcliffe. People could often be seen fishing from it, especially in the evenings. Although I’ve never eaten it myself, surely fresh caught “poisson” marinated in the warm waters of The Rideau River must be one of the unique “tastes of Ottawa”. The Rockcliffe closed their end when problems arose with some of the people using the bridge. The city installed a chain link fence closing their side the following year. So it was not neglected and unused when problems arose with open access.

        1. When much younger, I was in my local martime KMart and saw two older ladies discussing an item on a christmas list. It was an aquarium. They found the specified box. Then one noticed the box was labelled “poison” and they decided it was no longer a good christmas present.

  3. A few more interesting facts about the island are that it was once used to isolate individuals with communicable diseases from the rest of the city. In the mid-60s, the Island Lodge nursing home was opened and remained there until the early 2000s when it was replaced with the Garry J Armstrong LTC building and the Chartwell Rockliffe Manor retirement home. It seems that the land is entirely owned by the City, perhaps with a ground lease to the Chartwell residence.

    1. Hi David- Having worked on Porter Island I’m aware of it’s history and yes the Rockcliffe land is leased to Chartwell who by the way is not the original owner of the Rockcliffe. After so many years the residence and the land reverts to the city. It doesn’t change the fact that both the Rockliffe and G.Armstrong have no trespassing rules on their properties. Both residences have beautiful landscaping but ithey are not open to the public to use. There are lots of heritage properties and architectural sites that are well kept but not open to the public. This bridge is one that should fall into that category. I never once advocated for leaving it to decay, but was pointing out that it is not for public acsess.

  4. I’ve always wondered if that bridge wouldn’t be better repurposed (with new approaches) to just east of the Bank St. Bridge at the Rideau River to link the MUPs on either side and create a safer alternative to cycling with traffic. But that’s probably just a pipe dream.

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