NIPAWIN — Shirley Phillips says she is "shocked" to see a Nipawin bridge spanning decades of local history indefinitely closed to traffic.
She was surprised when the Ministry of Highways suddenly closed the almost century-old “crooked bridge” on Tuesday, citing its “rapidly deteriorating conditions” in a prepared statement.
Phillips, 85, a founding member of the Nipawin Heritage Society, wants the structure preserved and repaired.
“If you have trouble with your house, you don't move out. You repair [it],” she said.
An inspection late last week recommended the Old Highway 35 bridge close to traffic immediately, according to the ministry. The report revealed that heavy traffic has worn down the approaches to the bridge, which fell short of safety standards, ministry spokesman Patrick Book said.
No concerns were raised over the bridge's rail line, and the structure will stay in place.
“That seemed to be the best road forward,” he said. “We’ll be talking to the residents and the community about what the future looks like in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, we can figure something out.”
The bridge was built in 1931. Before then, community members used both a ferry and a basket attached to a cable system powered by a Ford Model T to cross the river and run errands in town, Phillips said.
When it was built, the 580-metre span was one of the largest steel bridges in Western Canada, noted a 2008 statement of historical significance by architectural historian Ross Herrington. Locals were eager to use it.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport said the bridge is not designated as a municipal or provincial heritage property.
“This bridge was always due to close following the construction of a replacement bridge on Highway 55 in 1974, just over five kilometres away,” the highways ministry noted in its prepared statement.
“We understand this will have impacts on the community and apologize that this must be done with short notice.”
Phillips said she's concerned for the bridge's future, noting it draws traffic into Nipawin, attracting visitors who want to cross the "crooked bridge," named for the turn on its approach. The structure is also a notable feature in community murals about the area's history.
The local heritage society has placed a marker there, to reflect its prominence as more of the community's historical buildings are lost, Phillips said. If money's not available for the bridge's repair, she has considered starting a GoFundMe page to raise cash.
If the newer bridge can be maintained, “why can't it be done for our heritage bridge?” Phillips said.