Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bridges overlooked

Strangely enough in all the recent writing about bridges, I left out two... one right at the start of the summer and one right at the end; one a very old bridge and one very new.

Middle Road bridge

Years and years ago, long before GoogleMaps, I used to pore over MapArt map books of the GTA and look for interesting hints of lost roads and bridges. Sometime in the 90s I noticed there were two discontinuous parts of Sherway Drive on either side of Etobicoke Creek, and I decided to go have a look. I was rewarded with the "discovery" of a closed bridge; one still very much in use by local cyclists and pedestrians. I didn't realize just how historic the bridge was at the time.

When it was built in 1909, Middle Road bridge, as it was known then, was one of the few ways across the creek, and, incredibly, part of one of the two principal routes back and forth between Toronto and Hamilton. It's a concrete bowstring arch bridge, only the second build in North America, and now the oldest existing example on the continent. About a generation after it was built, most of the route it connected was assumed by what became the Queen Elizabeth Way, but this sturdy little one-laner stayed in use for a long time after that. Eventually, inevitably, suburbia crept right up to its very approaches on the west side; up the valley slope on the east, the Sherway Gardens Mall opened around 1970. Nothing much existed on the eastern approach because it was in the flood plain, and after Hurricane Hazel in 1954, southern Ontarians knew better than to build in such places (the main reason Toronto, atypical of a North American city, retains lush arboreal urban river valleys). Middle Road bridge existed, from its creation, on a municipal boundary (between York and Peel counties). For whatever reason – maybe structural, maybe limiting traffic seeking a residential shortcut to Sherway Gardens – Mississauga in Peel closed its half of the bridge to vehicular traffic in 1972. Etobicoke, in Metro Toronto, followed suit shortly thereafter. And so bridge remained, neglected, but used by the people to get back and forth between shops and homes.

The bridge really began to decay in this neglect and in the mid 1980s, its future became a concern. A Mississauga city councilor, Angus E. McDonald, took up the project of having the bridge's heritage status honoured by seeing to it the bridge was refurbished, which was done in that decade. Some of the shots of the bridge taken just before that in 1984 show it in less that pristine shape, but still, not all that bad. It was a feasible thing for the two cities to spruce up their shared historical landmark, and it's been looked after ever since.

I took pictures of the bridge myself at the end of the 90s and early in 2000. Last May I went back there, furnished with copies of those 1984 photos, with the idea of duplicating the views from a quarter century later, as well as to look around at the place myself for the first time in a decade, almost to the day.

The image below looks east along Evans Avenue, once Middle Road leading to the bridge.

Comparison shots, 1984-2010.

And here is a video of the joy of someone searching for, and discovering, the bridge for the first time in the autumn of 2009. :)

Ridgeway Drive bridge over Hwy 403

Years ago, around the time I got my license and began exploring the GTA both in MapArt books and putting the rubber to the road, there was already a Ridgeway Drive south of a recently-opened Highway 403. In those days, the land north of the 403 there was still open farmland west of Winston Churchill Blvd., and I used to look at the maps and wonder when, as seemed logical to me, Ridgeway Drive would bridge the highway and join a street on the north side; the obvious candidate being Tenth Line. All that stood between them was a farmhouse at the end of Tenth Line south of Eglinton Avenue and the highway itself. This seemed eminently desirable to me, but it never seemed to come to pass, so eventually I just decided it wasn't practical or necessary and that they'd never do it.

Quite recently, while passing through on the way west, I was treated to my vindication: the sight of a new bridge going up over the 403 just west of Winston Churchill Blvd. Ridgeway Drive is finally vaulting the 403.

And so, a few weekends back, I decided to stop and take a few shots of the bridge under construction. It wasn’t far from the street, but getting to it was a chore and a half. The soil most of the way was 100% grey clay, and it was so sticky it nearly tore my sandals apart. I don’t need a good excuse to do without them at the best of times, but this was a good excuse. The going was easier without, but it was still tricky.

Pretty soon, people will be using this bridge on their daily trips between home and work. In a few years, it’ll be hard to remember what it was like before it was built. But at least these shots will give folks some idea.



jim said...

I've done a cursory search over at and I wasn't able to find a concrete bowstring as nice as this one. Bowstring arch bridges are kind of a holy grail for bridgehunters.

Lone Primate said...

Hi, Jim, :)

I didn't realize that. We're lucky that we have a couple of nice examples that I know of hereabouts. Thanks to designer Frank Barber, I guess. :)