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‘No interest in cloning’: Advice sought on how to commemorate Smiths Falls’ old Confederation Bridge

A pedestrian bridge design like this “Bridge of Dreams” in British Columbia, is what may be considered to replace Confederation Bridge in Smiths Falls – Laurie Weir screengrab

The Smiths Falls Municipal Heritage Committee (MHC) is being tasked to come up with some ideas to commemorate the old Confederation Bridge.

That was the ask of Paul McMunn, the town’s director of public works, on Tuesday, January 23 during a meeting of the MHC.

McMunn said he wants advice as to how to commemorate the old Confederation Bridge — would it be a heritage board with a photo, or plaques at either end of the bridge? Or something different?

“Council doesn’t have an appetite to try to rehab or refurbish what’s there,” he said. “That ship has sailed. So, the old bridge is going to come out sooner rather than later.”

One of the issues with rehabilitating the old bridge is the amount of lead-based paint.

“We’re going to have to deal with that on removal,” McMunn said. “It would be terribly difficult to rehab and terribly expensive, and well in excess of what a new bridge would cost.”

McMunn said they’re in the process of “putting out feelers” to see who in the area can create a wooden structure like the one in Princeton, BC., that council has taken a shine to.

There was “no interest in cloning” the original bridge, McMunn said. “They want something different.”

Confederation Bridge has been out of commission since 2015.

“One reason we go through a municipal class environmental assessment and why we have consultation with all these different interest groups is to ensure everybody is consulted, everybody’s got a voice … we want to take that information to drill down on a preferred solution,” McMunn said.

What they discovered during the environmental assessment (EA) process was that there was interest for a pedestrian bridge, not a vehicular one.

“Council has made the decision to remove the bridge and put in a pedestrian structure,” McMunn said. “So here we are, what does that structure look like?”

He took a recommendation to committee of the whole last week for the bridge to be a single-span, bow-string style, painted black, with a concrete deck. They will not utilize the centre pier.

“If we were to deviate from that, it wouldn’t necessarily necessitate an amendment to the EA, because the amendment is noting that council’s wishes, through consultations, it’s going to be a pedestrian crossing,” McMunn said.

“I think that’s paramount. If we make any changes to the design — whether it’s going to be steel or wood, or plastic — it wouldn’t open the EA up to an amendment because we’re still holding to the nature of the municipal class EA in that it’s going to be a pedestrian structure.”

McMunn said they don’t want to be working in water “because there is a whole pile of permitting that goes along with that and some tight timing windows because we’re in fish habitat.”

They will install new concrete abutments behind the existing canal wall, which serves as the existing abutments now, “and that will push the bridge out in length, so there will need to be some approach work.”

Grading will be required so the underside of the new bridge is no closer to the water than the previous one, so it doesn’t impede flow of the Rideau River, he explained.

McMunn told the committee that council wants whatever bridge they decide to put in to be a focal point for the town, that it “be that destination that people want to come and see.”

“There’s a huge opportunity to do something unique,” he said, and something “that will create that tourism feel.”

McMunn said with the potential for redevelopment of the former water treatment plant on Old Mill Road – the opposite end of the road to Confederation Bridge and adjacent to Centennial Park – in concert with the bridge replacement, “these two alone are catalysts for something really cool happening in that park.”

Bringing more foot traffic to the area would be ideal for active transportation, he noted, as it takes vehicles out of the equation. “But that’s just my opinion.”

McMunn showed the wooden structure with a viewing platform that ties in the elements of heritage and tourism that council was interested in pursuing.

“Council hasn’t endorsed this,” he said, but the wooden structure looks like a preferred option from council, who asked McMunn to come back with some more information – how will it impact the scheduling, and a cost analysis.

“We’re just going to pump the brakes a little bit,” McMunn said. “We have a great opportunity to do something monumental for this town.”

Would it cost more than the $1.2 million in the budget for this new bridge?

“Perhaps, I don’t know yet,” McMunn said.

Following his presentation, Loraine Allen, a member of the MHC and long-time former councillor in Smiths Falls, said she will not support a bridge that deviates so much from the original one.

Chair Dorothy Hudson said they didn’t have to decide right away and wanted to have the full committee — including Coun. Chris McGuire, who is part of the Confederation Bridge working group — in attendance before doing so.

“I will not support that bridge in any way,” Allen said. “And I can’t understand as a municipal heritage committee [why] we would take down our most treasured asset in heritage. That bridge, I’ve wanted to take down for 13 years, or fix. Then they’ve given us some options that are similar to it.

“Instead, we’re going to have this type of bridge (a wooden structure) because they want to have it stand out,” Allen continued. “But in my view, that part stands out because it’s the most beautiful part of our town. It doesn’t need a bridge that is super-duper … it just needs a place where people to walk across and look at the water, the way we did when Confederation Bridge was open.”

Hudson said they “could draft a resolution in formal language that we send forward to council, expressing concerns about the bridge design.”

Senior planner Karl Grenke said council would make the decision on how the bridge will look and they will consult a variety of groups – the heritage committee included.

“It’s not a designated property,” he said, “so there isn’t that statutory piece the municipal heritage committee would have if they were dealing with a designated property, whether it’s owned by the town or somebody else. One of the things staff may be looking for direction on is how you would like to see heritage commemorated.”

No decisions or recommendations were made by the MHC. They will wait until the Feb. 6 meeting before doing so.

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