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Alexandra Bridge - Ontario / Quebec


 
The Alexandra Bridge crossing the Ottawa River between the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau (formerly Hull), Québec is officially known as the Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge unofficially known as the Interprovincial Bridge, is a steel truss cantilever bridge that opened to the public in February 1901. At 1,857 feet (or 566 meters) in total length, the bridge was originally built to serve the Ottawa and Gatineau Railway and Pontiac Pacific Junction Railway, both of which later became part of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It wasn't until 1966 that the train tracks were removed from this heritage bridge, converting the Alexandra Bridge solely to motor vehicle and pedestrian use only. The bridge uses the old railroad track for one lane of traffic, and there are roadbeds on either side, one for pedestrians and the other for northbound traffic, a similar setup to the Victoria Bridge in Montreal, Quebec.

Discussion of a new interprovincial bridge to the east of the Union Suspension Bridge (at the site of today's Chaudière Bridge) began in 1877 when meetings were held at Ottawa’s City Hall on the construction of a railway and carriage road bridge linking Rockcliffe in Ontario with the small Quebec community of Waterloo on the north shore of the Ottawa, roughly a mile or two downstream from where the Alexandra Bridge is today. The plan was for the Ottawa & Toronto Railway Company to link its rails with the Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental Railway by way of the bridge, along with the construction of a central depot near Elgin Street linking downtown Ottawa with the Rockcliffe bridge. However, this failed to gain the necessary political traction with the provincial or federal governments. Bridge supporters had hoped that governments would provide much of the $380,000 needed to fund construction, but by 1883, Sir Charles Tupper, the Minister of Railways and Canals, ended the discussion as the road to the proposed bridge had not been completed, and that the provincial governments of Quebec and Ontario had not provided any funding towards a new bridge.

In 1890, the Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway and the related Gatineau Valley Railway Company had a new proposal for an interprovincial bridge to link Ottawa to Hull at Nepean Point with a central depot to be built at the Rideau Canal, a proposal with more legs than the 1877 proposal due to improved funding. The price tag was estimated at roughly $800,000 including the cost of building the approaches to the bridge on both banks of the Ottawa River. In 1894, the City of Ottawa taxpayers voted to give a bonus of $150,000 to the railroad upon the completion of a bridge for railway, carriage, and pedestrian traffic. Instead of cash, the City of Ottawa would hand over 30-year debentures that were paid at an interest rate of 4%. However, the condition was that the interprovincial bridge would have to be completed by July 1897. Applications for grants also went to the Ontario, Quebec, and Canadian governments. Railway and municipal officials lobbied members of legislatures. Ontario came through with $50,000 in April 1895, only a fraction of what was sought. The Quebec government chose not to provide any funds. After much delay, the Canadian government provided $212,000. In the meantime, the City of Ottawa twice extended its deadline for the railway to qualify for its $150,000 bonus, which wound up being $162,500 paid in debentures when it was all said and done. When financing had been adequately secured and construction plans approved by the Department of Railways and Canals of Canada, work on the interprovincial bridge finally commenced in February 1898. The bridge would carry a single-track railway line in the center with two carriage roads and sidewalks for pedestrians. The Dominion Bridge Company of Montreal, Quebec won the contract for the bridge's construction and the bridge was designed by a group of Canadian engineers led by G.C. Dunn.

While the bridge itself is 1,857 feet long, when you include its approaches, the bridge is 2,685 feet long when you include the approaches, which made the Alexandra Bridge the fourth longest bridge of this type in the world at the time of its construction. But as one would expect the construction came with its own set of challenges. Some of these challenges were based on the area geology, while other challenges had to do with Ottawa's history as a major timber center. The Ottawa River was loaded with sunken logs and sawdust. Before finding bedrock for Pier Two, workers had to go through eight feet of drowned boards and timbers, while at Pier Three, there was sawdust thirty feet deep that had to be removed. Once bedrock was discovered, it was discovered that the bedrock sloped sharply, so blasting became necessary to level the bedrock below the river's surface. Above the water, laborers carved out 35 feet from the cliff at Kìwekì Point (which was known as Nepean Point at the time of construction) to form the roadbed leading to the bridge, which meant sacrificing a portion of Major's Hill Park in downtown Ottawa.

Not all of the challenges were construction-minded in nature, since during the Alexandra Bridge's construction, there was a competing proposal to build a bridge from the Hull and Aylmer Electric Railway between Ottawa and Hull using an approach from Bank Street, just to the west of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. This proposal was initially greeted warmly by officials but was opposed by the Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway, claiming that they had monopoly rights to a bridge crossing between Ottawa and Hull. However, once work began on the superstructure of the Alexandra Bridge in December 1899, the competing proposal failed to get approval. Work on the Alexandra Bridge moved rapidly from that point, and by October 1900, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec were connected and work was underway in building the roadbed. On December 12, 1900, the first test train made its way over the new bridge and in January 1901, Chief William F. Powell of the Ottawa Police Force and his wife were the first to drive their carriage over the bridge, also as a test. Having received a positive assessment after inspectors checked out the bridge in February 1901, the bridge opened to the general public for the first time at noon on March 5, 1901.

In August 1901, Ottawa's Mayor William Morris suggested that the new interprovincial bridge be called the Royal Alexandra Bridge in honor of the wife of King Edward VII. The new bridge's owners agreed with the suggestion, and the bridge was christened the following month when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York came to Ottawa for the unveiling of a monument to Queen Victoria on Parliament Hill. The bridge is a magnificent heritage bridge that spans the Ottawa River right next to the center of Parliament Hill and where the Rideau Canal, a World Heritage site, connects to the Ottawa River. In a setting with such rich heritage and iconic structures, this bridge is an essential element of the area and it contributes greatly to the rich heritage and culture found here. The bridge has been honored by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site. It was also noteworthy because it was designed and erected by Canadians without the assistance of firms outside the country.

However, at the time this article is being written, the Alexandra Bridge is reaching the end of its service life and is due for replacement. In recent years, the state of the bridge has continued to deteriorate. Ongoing repairs will allow it to remain in use until the planned start of construction of a replacement bridge in 2028. Normally, about 18,000 vehicles cross the Alexandra Bridge daily, which accounts for 9% of the vehicle traffic on the interprovincial bridges that connect Ottawa and Gatineau, along with about 40% of all pedestrian and cyclist traffic that crosses the Ottawa River in the National Capital Region. The replacement bridge is currently in the planning stages, with conceptual designs for a new bridge being created and public consultations being held for what a new signature bridge may look like. The new bridge promises to be equitable, and safe for all users, and to lend a historic nod to the Alexandra Bridge while continuing to allow everyone to experience the Ottawa River and its beautiful surroundings. Additionally, a new bridge is expected to be a model of sustainability as part of its core values and conceptualization. The new bridge is expected to be completed and opened to the public in 2032.


A spectacular summer view of the Alexandra Bridge

View of the Alexandra Bridge from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. You can also see the MacDonald-Cartier Bridge slightly downstream on the Ottawa River.

Alexandra Bridge in winter.

Driving northbound on the Alexandra Bridge into Gatineau, Quebec. The outside roadbed feels similar to the Victoria Bridge in Montreal, Quebec.

Driving southbound on the Alexandra Bridge into Ottawa, Ontario. There is also a pedestrian crossing that lends to great views of Parliament Hill.

Approaching the Alexandra Bridge from Kìwekì Point (formerly Nepean Point) in Ottawa.



How to Get There:



Sources and Links:
The Historical Society of Ottawa - The Inter-Provincial Bridge, a.k.a. The Royal Alexandra Bridge
HistoricBridges.org - Alexandra Bridge (Pont Alexandra)
National Capital Commission - Alexandra Bridge Replacement
Canadian Society for Civil Engineering - Alexandra Bridge
Government of Canada - Alexandra Bridge

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