Friday, February 16, 2018
While enjoying a visit to The Shand Dam, I decided to make the side trip to see the last remaining vintage covered bridge in Ontario.
The average lifespan of a wooden bridge in the 19th century was 10 to 15 years. The bridge marked on the county atlas in 1877 was under continual repair and by 1881 the Woolwich Council decided it was time to replace it. They tendered the job of replacing the bridge with a covered bridge because it could be expected to last up to 80 years.
The winning tender was from John and Benjamin Bear who agreed to $3197.50 for construction. John Bear had built several barns but West Montrose would be his first bridge project. Following this success he would go on to become a well-known bridge designer.
The original bridge decking was wood and the covering protected it from storms and inclement weather. Ironically, in the winter the town had to pay someone to shovel snow onto the bridge. Buggies switched to sleigh runners for the winter instead of wheels and the snow was needed to protect the oak planks of the decking. A second advantage that covered bridges offered was a sense of calm for the horses who didn’t have to view the river during the crossing. Starting in 1885 the inside of the bridge was lit by coal oil lamps during the over night hours. Innovation came in 1950 when three electric light bulbs were hung inside the bridge. After four years of having these smashed by tall trucks, the county paid for proper installation of electric lights.
The bridge is two spans supported on a stone weir in the river. The design is a Howe truss bridge but with the addition of needle beams (elongated floor beams) to laterally stabilize the frame. It is 205 feet long and 17 feet wide. It has been restored several times and steel Bailey trusses were added in 1959.
One on-line database lists 35 covered bridges in Ontario, along with pictures. Only one of these was in existence when this postcard picture was taken in the 1930’s. At that time there was a 30 foot long pagoda style bridge in Peterborough, among others in the province. Only the Peterborough bridge survives from this era and it was restored in 1989 and so has an extended future. Most other covered bridges in the province were built since 1980. The West Montrose covered bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Canada and the only Victorian era vehicle bridge still in use in Ontario. The more famous Hartland Covered Bridge in New Brunswick is much longer at 1282 feet but 20 years newer, having opened in 1901. It is only one year shy of being the oldest in that province. Notice how the West Montrose Covered Bridge pictured below had not been painted up until the time of this historic photograph.
The length of the bridge varies from report to report with 205, 200 and 198 feet being cited. Perhaps the floor deck is 198 while the roof is 205. There is a small park near the bridge where you are allowed to park but property on both sides of the river is marked as no trespassing. I can imagine it garners a fair bit of attention from tourists at certain times of the year. Especially with a nick-name like The Kissing Bridge.
As a bonus, Lost Acre Variety at the north end of the bridge has some very tasty home cooked breads and sweets.
Google Maps Link: West Montrose
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