Centre Street Bridge, pre 1915
Postcards from the Past, PC 226
Well, after much controversy, many delays and a healthy dose of skepticism, the Peace Bridge is scheduled to officially open this Saturday with a celebration including the blessing of the bridge by a First Nations elder – suitable, as the confluence of these rivers had long been a meeting spot for the people living in this part of the country.
The bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava, the architect chosen to design the train station which will be part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site in New York. He also designed two beautiful bridges that span the River Liffey in Dublin, one of my very favourite cities. Both are named for famous Irish authors (James Joyce and Samuel Beckett) and are beautiful additions to that city. But I digress. Our Calatrava bridge was faced with much nay saying and continual back and forth between proponents of the unique structure and those who felt the money could be better spent. Because I am a history buff, this called to mind the foofaraw over the Centre Street Bridge (of course there has to be a tie to something in the past, right?)
The part of the city north of the Bow had been settled long before it was part of the city. In fact, the area just beyond the Langevin was the red light district for Calgary because it actually fell outside of the jurisdiction of the city police. For people living on the north side of the Bow, it was imperative that they have a decent bridge to cross to the city. The developer of Crescent Heights had built a steel span bridge with wooden approaches. He sold shares in the company and used the bridge as a selling feature for the land that he was developing on the north side of the river. There were other crossings, but the closest bridge was at what is now Kensington, and it was a bit of a hike for people who were coming from Crescent Heights and area. When Crescent Heights was annexed by the city in 1908, many expected that the bridge would also fall under the care and maintenance of the city. The annexation meant that lots were opened up and houses were being built. Construction materials had to be hauled up to the hill, but the Centre Street Bridge Company was still the owner of the structure. The company wanted the city to pay $7,000 for the bridge, what it had cost them to build it. The city refused to pay even $5000. This back and forth went on between the city and the bridge company from 1908 to 1912 when the city finally agreed to buy the bridge for $300. Three years later, the structure would be washed out by one of our regular floods. What was left was sold to the provincial Department of Highways (for $200 more than the city paid the bridge company for it.) Construction had already begun on the new bridge that we all know and love. It was completed in 1916, again, with much controversy surrounding its design and the cost. Some things never change.