History of Walterdale Bridge Goes On

One of the best parts of living in Edmonton is to stumble across the astonishing link between infrastructure and history.

Take the Walterdale Bridge, for example. City Council’s vision for replacing this 100-year-old structure is best described in this video, which also runs on the masthead of www.edmonton.ca

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.

Fort Edmonton circa 1871

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.

105 Street Bridge circa 1915

 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:

Artist’s rendering of the new Walterdale Bridge, scheduled to open in 2015

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.

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About the Author
Graeme McElheran
Graeme McElheran is the Communications Manager for Transportation Services, Financial Services & Utilities.
2 Comments
  1. Gerald Delorme
    5 years ago

    Why must we still endure the non truths you push? Such as This statement below.

    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.

    Ever since 1908 when a Lady from a near by reserve came to gather up her baby’s remains the City of Edmonton has desecrated a known grave area. Many many ancestors have been dug up and either thrown in a landfill, skulls ending up on peoples mantels, or some like in 1976 ending up in another cemetery along with remains dumped in a landfill.

    In the year 2000 while Epcor was moving back the fence the encountered yet another body. An off duty RCMP in 1958 described the Rossdale grave area in the edmonton journal which now the City is denying once again. There has been numerous eye witlessness over the years also describing the extent of the grave area. There has been also many city of edmonton employees that have dug up many remains over the years that shared their stories with me.

    The traditional burial ground which most of this activity has been taking place has a much larger area than the white cemetery as described by Mr. Jones. The bones of our ancestor have been scattered all over the area in question which the results of the bones decaying at a much more rapid pace than the ones buried deeper. In knowing that does that make this area any less SACRED than having a fence around a cemetery protecting the ones hat have been interred??? The ash of our ancestors are all over that area and remains are in the back fill of the road ways.

    In our estimates over the many years that the grave site has been used there are up wards of at least 1000 burials. This would include the epidemics that swept through the territory in various years.

    The City of Edmonton has already started a Legacy in what they have done at Rossdale over the many years. With the roadway and the new bridge the Legacy will continue unless attitudes change.

    Here is a good example of what should be done. Now this is how others treat the ones that have gone before and there are many more examples of this also.

    http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1035491–grave-injustice-aboriginal-group-decides-not-to-build-on-possible-catholic-graveyard

    RESPECT like any other cemetery in this City, Province , Country are lacking to Historical Grave sites like this one. Is this so much to ask?? Rest in Peace should have that meaning for all not just the few. Lets have at least the RESPECT for the ones that went before. In this case it looks like this is not going to happen. Be proud of the Legacy which has been started. I know I am not.

  2. Graeme McElheran
    5 years ago

    Thank you for your comments Mr. Delorme. Several members of the Walterdale project team have had extended discussions about these concerns with you and other stakeholders at various public meetings over the last few years throughout the project’s concept planning and preliminary engineering stages. From the City’s perspective it is very good to have citizens so engaged with the public consultation process.

    The concerns and traditional oral history of the Aboriginal communities are taken seriously. It is precisely to mitigate these well known concerns that the City is taking the following measures:

    Minimizing impacts by building the bridge in the same location as the old bridge. As explained in the original blog post, the City is seeking to minimize disruption by building the new bridge in almost exactly the same location as the old bridge because the ground there has been previously disturbed by more than a century of development. The likelihood of finding grave features in this area is lower than it would be elsewhere because the ground has already been turned over and filled many times. The City is seeking to avoid the very problems you describe by building the bridge in this location.

    Conducting comprehensive archaeological research. To verify the low risk associated with the strategy of building in the same place, the project team has been conducting archaeological analysis of the construction site and the surrounding area for several years. This research included ground-penetrating radar studies and subsurface testing conducted in 2006 and 2007. During that time many stakeholders from the Aboriginal community, including you, were given the opportunity to identify locations for analysis in the Rossdale Flats. No unrecorded grave features were found through these extensive efforts, and we thank you for your cooperation. This is good news; it means the odds of encountering a previously unrecorded grave feature are even more remote. Results from the studies have always been available for anyone to review, and remain so today.

    Consulting with the Aboriginal community. As the original blog post states, the project team is committed to the consultation processes, particularly with the Aboriginal community. The City has ongoing consultation with 21 Aboriginal communities. The project team continues to ask for input, show all its research and answer everyone’s questions, and it will continue to do so for the project’s entire duration and beyond. Some individuals or groups may not like the answers they receive, but explanations have always been provided and they are always well reasoned and based on fact.

    The City has a mandate to pursue this project with sensitivity to the issues you describe. Such sensitivity is part of the City’s overall mandate to protect and enhance the safety and well being of all its citizens. In this case that means rebuilding a bridge that is an essential part of a major public transportation corridor that carries 32,000 vehicles across the North Saskatchewan River every day. The City is seeking to achieve this mandate with minimal disruption to culture and heritage while recognizing the areas importance as a commemorative site.

    Thanks again for your comments.

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