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‘Out to lunch’: Smiths Falls Heritage Committee wants to meet with Confederation Bridge design team

This bowstring bridge in Dartmouth N.S. is the preferred design by the Smiths Falls Heritage Committee and they passed a motion to offer their recommendation to council before it’s decided what the Confederation Bridge replacement will look like. – Photo via Town of Smiths Falls documents

The Smiths Falls Heritage Committee made no bones about their dislike of the chosen design for the new Confederation Bridge, despite its more modern features that offer a “wow factor.”

Committee member Klaas van der Meer said that the bridges they looked at were “way out to lunch.” The only design he liked was unanimous by the members of the heritage committee – a bowstring design; not one made of wood with a roof as chosen by council to further investigate.

Smiths Falls senior planner Karl Grenke said he’d take the committee’s recommendation to a future council meeting.

“Whatever the bridge design – and that decision hasn’t been made yet – will be council’s,” Garence said; council will be looking to the heritage committee to see how best to commemorate the old bridge.

Member Lorraine Allen brought forward a motion outlining what they’d like to see happen with the bridge design.

“This is a rather long motion, but it expresses how we feel,” Allen said.

In the motion, it was noted that the Heritage Conservation District could be inclusive of where Confederation Bridge is situated; the committee is concerned with the integrity of the cultural heritage landscape, which includes a direct view todesignated properties immediately down river – the former water treatment plant at 25 Old Mill Rd., the Wood’s Mill Complex at 34 Beckwith St, and the UNESCO heritage site of the Stone Arch Bridge immediately up river. The property at 25 Old Mill Road could be affected by the replacement bridge design; the original bridge was positioned close to the flowing river, a crossing that was integrated with the surrounding landscape, not raised up above it which was a determinant factor with how the community experienced the bridge and the river. A pedestrian-only bridge provides an opportunity to replicate that experience.

The committee recommended that the town select a design for the replacement of Confederation Bridge that commemorates the heritage landscape that surrounds it, connects it to the water, and is in keeping with the scale, shape and materials of the original bridge and its surroundings.

The bowstring truss bridge design exemplifies this concept best of all, they said. The committee would like to meet with the design company to provide input on the design of the new bridge.

It was at a special committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 15 when Smiths Falls council gave direction to staff to look at the cost of the wooden structure, including design and maintenance costs, and come back with an updated report.

“If this bridge is going to be in our community for the next 100 years, and the fact that the bridge was decommissioned almost nine years ago now, if it takes a little bit longer to get it right, I would prefer to take a little bit longer and create something that we know will stand the test of time and will be more than just a river crossing,” Mayor Shawn Pankow said on Jan. 15.

Allen said the more modern design doesn’t fit in with what that area is all about and how it connects the heritage that surrounds it — not just the buildings but the landscape too.

Grenke said this isn’t a designated heritage property and as such there is no statutory role for the municipal heritage committee.

“Ultimately, the decision-making council’s subject to whatever other approvals they may need to get from Parks Canada,” Grenke said, but the sense he gets from the committee is that they would like to provide feedback to council before the decision is made.

“And that decision will be based on costs and a variety of other things,” Grenke said.

The motion was passed unanimously and will head to council for future consideration.

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