One of the best parts of living in Edmonton is to stumble across the astonishing link between infrastructure and history.
This video explains the City’s vision for the new Walterdale Bridge.
The new bridge will be many things – elegant, contemporary, beautiful. Rather than replace the steel truss architecture many Edmonton bridges employ – basic, robust and utilitarian but rather plain – City Council decided to build a more modern arch design as a signature gateway into downtown.
The historic significance of this decision is twofold: it turns a page on the city’s industrial past, but honours Edmonton’s history as it embraces the future.
People have been crossing the North Saskatchewan River and gathering in the Edmonton area for centuries. When the second Fort Edmonton was established around 1801 on the north bank floodplain (now called Rossdale) below the escarpment, it became a trade centre between First Nations, Métis and European cultures.
Although Fort Edmonton officially changed locations several times over the years, Rossdale retained its status as a social and commercial hub. Around 1875 a shipwright named John Walter began operating a ferry between the riverbanks. Around 1912 construction began on the 105 Street Bridge that would replace his ferry operation, and eventually bear his name.
Now, a century later, the time has come to build something new.
The condition of the existing Walterdale Bridge was assessed in 2000. City engineers determined it was approaching the end of its service life and rehabilitated the bridge to give it a few more years while City Council considered options. In 2011 City Council approved a concept plan and a $132 million budget to build a bridge that looks like this:
Achieving this vision will require a lot of hard work and ongoing public consultation, notably with First Nations and Métis communities within Edmonton and throughout the province. The Rossdale area has a rich historic cultural significance, perhaps best exemplified by the Fort Edmonton Cemetery and Traditional Burial Grounds located just northeast of the existing Walterdale Bridge, where ancestors of many Edmontonians – First Nations, Métis and European settlers – are interred with honour. While construction will occur adjacent to the Fort Edmonton Cemetery and Traditional Burial Grounds, requiring a boundary amendment and relocation of the information panels at the south end, the Walterdale Bridge replacement project will not displace the memory circle, reinterment area and historic period graveyard.
Everywhere in Rossdale – and really the entire river valley – has historic cultural value no one wants to disturb. One reason for building the new bridge right next to the old bridge is because the land has already been disturbed. Over the years the planned construction site has been developed and redeveloped, beginning with the establishment of Fort Edmonton, John Walter’s ferry and construction of the existing bridge. The chance of encountering human or other archaeological remains in the construction area is remote, and the City is conducting extensive archaeological research to minimize those odds even more.
Building major infrastructure like the Walterdale Bridge has impacts that create inconvenience for everyone. The existing bridge will remain in operation until the new bridge begins service in 2015. For two years beginning in 2013 both ends of the bridge are going to be a construction zone.
But when the new bridge opens the short term pain will be worth the long term gain. Edmonton’s story continues, and the new Walterdale Bridge is an exciting introduction to the city’s next chapter.