Historic Ross Bridge saved from demo – maybe

Built in 1943, the bridge originally served an oil pipeline during construction of the Alaska Highway.

We know all about saving historic bridges in the Cowichan Valley from demolition, don’t we? (Think Kinsol Trestle.)

The residents of Ross River, YT, recently survived their own near-loss of a beloved heritage span, built by the American military during the Second World War, by successfully mounting a campaign of public awareness and passive resistance that led to a last-minute reprieve by the Yukon government.

I’d heard of the impeding demolition of the 192-metre-long suspension bridge – the longest single-span suspension footbridge in Canada – on the CBC. Then came an email from Sue Thomas, formerly with Macdonald & Lawrence Timber Framing, the local restoration specialists who convinced the CVRD to take another look at the Kinsol’s proposed destruction.

“Tom: A local issue has the attention of many and I’m hoping to spark your interest, too. The government has decided to tear down the Ross River suspension bridge, originally built to carry the Canol pipeline across the Pelly River… The structural engineer [who] has been lobbying to save the bridge…is certain it can be stabilized, has thought it through and consulted with colleagues about it.” (Shades of M&L!) Sue thought I’d be interested in “another historical bridge needing to be saved before it is

“…After government officials repeatedly said the 70-year-old structure was unsalvageable and must be torn down because of safety concerns, Premier Darrell Pasloski now says the government will issue a request for proposals to stabilize it.”

Among those who congratulated the premier for the change of mind was Heritage Canada The National Trust (HCNT) which also commended Ross River and Yukon residents for their “tremendous effort…to secure a future for the historic bridge”.

So, how did the Ross River folks convince Premier Pasloski to take a second look? Not just by lobbying, but by camping out on the ice (this was mid-winter, remember) for weeks to prevent contractors from beginning demolition.

“As a community we came together and [our] voice was heard…” said Ross River Dena Chief Brian Ladue, who said that the government’s aboutface tacitly acknowledged outstanding aboriginal rights and title.

Built in 1943 as part of the CANOL (Canadian Pipeline), when the Canadian and American governments feared the threat of Japanese actions against West Coast supply lines, the bridge served as a conduit demolished”.

She wrote me on March 10. On March 25, a CBC headline proclaimed, “Yukon relents on Ross River bridge demolition.”

Well, events certainly didn’t move that quickly for the Kinsol! Back to the CBC:

for oils from Norman Wells, NWT, to a refinery at Whitehorse, YT, during construction of the Alaska Highway. By the time of the bridge’s completion in 1944, the Japanese threat had eased to the point that the pipeline project was shut down and dismantled in 1949. The bridge, however, became a popular foot crossing of the Pelly River for the residents of one of the remotest areas of the Canadian North. Hence their loyalty upon word of its impending demolition because of structural and safety concerns after decades without maintenance.

So, is the Ross River suspension bridge now safe? Can we count on the Yukon government to follow through on the structure’s rehabilitation? Despite such a dramatic turnaround by the politicians, Sue Thomas prefers to wait before ordering champagne: “The government [has] announced they will issue a [Request For Proposal] to stabilize it. So, we’ll see.”