NIPAWIN — A petition is calling for the old Nipawin bridge to be repaired and re-opened to traffic.
More than 1,600 signatures have been collected, according to Maureen Wolchuk, who spearhead the petition.
“I started the petition because I want to see the bridge opened up again,” she said. “The longer it is left the less likely something will get done.”
Wolchuk is a retired continuing care aid from the Nipawin Hospital. She and her husband moved to the Town of Nipawin in 1985 and then to an acreage in the RM of Torch River across the North Saskatchewan River via “the old bridge” in 1996.
“As a local resident who used this bridge daily, it has been a big inconvenience for us and our neighbors. It has made our trips into Nipawin a lot longer. We’ve gone from a five minute highway drive to a 15 minute drive to get to town. It is longer for many of our neighbors. The school bus route has lengthened as well,” she said.
“The old highway on our side of the bridge has quite a few acreages along it and many farmers also. There are many that won’t look at purchasing land or acreages because of the added distance to Nipawin.”
Wolchuk said SaskPower workers commute back and forth to work at the Francois Finlay Dam. Many of the people who live on the west side of the bridge work in Nipawin so it has made a big difference in time and gas for their work commute. Wolchuk also is worried that emergency response, ambulance, fire, RCMP all have to come from Nipawin and the response time for all of the emergency services is much longer now.
The bridge is the responsibility of the provincial highways ministry.
The part meant for vehicles was closed in June 2021 after an inspection by bridge engineers recommended it be closed.
When the current Highway 55 bridge over the North Saskatchewan River was constructed in 1974, the intent was to one day take the old bridge out of service, said a spokesperson with the highways ministry.
The inspection found a number of issues with the bridge, said the ministry. It revealed that heavy traffic has worn down the approaches to the bridge, which fell short of safety standards.
“The condition of the bridge is not surprising considering it is nearly 100 years old, however, the issues in the report will need to be repaired to keep the bridge operating safely. The ministry will make its best efforts to do what we can to keep the rail bridge open over the short term.”
Wolchuk said the Old Nipawin Bridge holds a lot of historic significance for Nipawin and the province. It was built in 1931 to replace a cable and basket that the residents used to cross the North Saskatchewan River. The amount of people that would come and take their wedding, family, graduation and just pictures in general was phenomenal.
“There wasn’t anyone who visits Nipawin who doesn’t want to drive over, view or have a picture of the ‘old covered bridge’. It is a landmark for the community.”
Wolchuck said she feels it would be a shame to lose the opportunity to repair it now before it deteriorates.