London’s Blackfriars Bridge, London Ontario

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London’s Blackfriars Bridge, London Ontario

The Only Single-Span Iron Bowstring Bridge in Canada.

Among Ontario’s many vanishing heritage features, bridges are most threatened. Generally we drive over them and under them but rarely stop to pay attention to them, possibly because they are no easy to see from a moving car. We are just to anxious to get where we are going.

That is one reason why bridges appear in this volume. The five-span stone arch bridge in Pakenham and the last covered bridge in Montrose are unique in North America. That also describes London’s Blackfriars Bridge. Named after its more famous counterpart in London, England, Ontario’s Blackfriars Bridge is at 68.6 metres, the longest single-span iron bowstring bridge in North America, and the only on in Canada.

Iron bridges were the first to begin replacing the wooden bridges that connected pioneer Ontario. While the older wooden structures were quicker and cheaper to build, and often strong, they were prone to rot and fire. Truss bridges made of wrought iron were far stronger and more durable.

Iron bridges owned their popularity to the railway. Because sparks from steam engines would all to often set the wooden bridges ablaze, iron bridges soon began to replace then. Road bridges simply drew upon the designs used by the railway. In Ontario, the earliest iron road bridges appeared in Brantford, Paris, Peterborough and London. Built in 1875 to cross the north branch of the Thames River, Blackfriars Bridge was the work of Isaac Crouse, a contractor employed by Wrought Iron Bridge company of Ohio. The feature that sets this iron bridge apart from the other in Ontario is the bowstring, or arched shape. Bowstrings are very rare in iron bridges, and because they were limited with the weight they could carry, iron bowstring bridges were often replaced. But the grateful curving superstructure gave them an appeal no other iron truss bridges could match.

Frequent improvements over the years have allowed this bridge to continue to carry vehicular traffic, even though other iron bridges in London, such as the King Street bridges have been decommissioned and converted to pedestrain traffic.

Ontario still claims a bountiful supply of heritage bridges, from the oldest stone bridge in Lyndhurst to the sole surviving suspension bridge on Sewell’s Road in Scarborough.  Many graceful concrete bowstring bridges still cross the Grand river in many locations, including Caledonia, which boasts eight arches. But others, like the awe-inspiring wooden bridge that until 2005 crossed high about Sioux Narrows, have disappeared. With increasing demands and far more and heavier traffic, heritage bridges will continue to succumb to the times.

Information Source: From Author Ron Brown and his book the “Top 150 most unusual things to see in Ontario”

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