Quesnel's Historic Fraser River Footbridge

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The bridge today

The original bridge was maintained for pedestrian use and as a backup for emergency vehicles.  The footbridge is now the centerpiece of the Riverfront Trail system and recognized as the longest wood truss walking bridge in the world.  In 2010 this valued community asset required further structural repair.  Much of the decking and many of the truss members and metal connectors were replaced and a programmable lighting array was installed.

Bridge Lights

The intent of the Fraser River Bridge lighting is to recognize special events, holidays and public awareness campaigns and not any type of individual recognition.

Schedule
EventDates
New YearsJanuary 1
Robert Burns DayJanuary 25
Valentine's DayFebruary 14
Girl Guides - World Thinking DayFebruary 22
Anti-BullyingFebruary 24
St Patrick's DayMarch 17
Spring LightsMarch 21 - June 20
Epilepsy AwarenessMarch 26
Autism AwarenessApril 2 
EasterApril 10 - 13
Organ Donor AwarenessApril 24
Cystic Fibrosis AwarenessMay 1
World MS DayMay 30
ALS AwarenessJune 1
Summer ShowJune 21 - September 22
Canada DayJuly 1
National Injury PreventionJuly 5
Billy Barker DaysJuly 19 - July 22
BC DayAugust 1
Tourism Awareness DayAugust 15
Overdose Awareness DayAugust 31
Childhood Cancer Awareness - Make Canada GoldSeptember 1

World Duchenne Awareness

September 7
Fall ShowSeptember 23 - December 4
Chiari AssociationSeptember 29
Cerebral Palsy DayOctober 6
ThanksgivingOctober 8
Domestic Violence AwarenessOctober 16
World Polio DayOctober 24
Rett Syndrome AwarenessOctober 29
4-H BCNovember 4
Adoption Awareness DayNovember 9
Remembrance Day November 11
UN Violence Against WomenNovember 25
End ViolenceDecember 3 - December 10
Christmas ShowDecember 5 - December 26
Winter Show December 27 - March 20

 

History of the Bridge

For many years the only means of crossing the Fraser River at Quesnel was a ferry service operated by William (Billy) Boucher.  In 1911 the provincial government financed the construction and operation of a reaction ferry.

As the community grew, citizens and the board of trade continued to lobby for a bridge. During the provincial election of 1928 the Conservative party promised to build one.  Within 10 days of their win, the contractor in charge of its construction had arrived in Quesnel.

Construction

Pile driving for the piers commenced on August 20 1928 and the crew began to pour the concrete piers on October 13. A relatively mild winter allowed the work to continue, with the last pier poured in January. This schedule resulted in one fatality.  On January 23, Stuart Wilson was dynamiting large cakes of ice as they approached the bridgework.  He died due to an ill-timed or defective fuse.

On January 28 the river froze completely, which made the construction of the superstructure easier. A second accident occurred in February when a timber fell from the top of the bridge hitting the deck.  Joe Rousseau was knocked over and fractured his ankle and ribs.  These events remind us of the very different working conditions of the time, with no hard hats or safety harnesses used. 

The Kersley Farmers’ Institute had petitioned to have the timber for the bridge cut locally, but the work was completed in Vancouver.  Each piece was cut to size, treated with creosote, numbered to identify where it was to be placed, and shipped to Quesnel by rail.  Unfortunately, the foreman in charge of the framing was fired before the bridge was built and took the building key with him.  Bert Allcock, who later became the Department of Public Works’ General Foreman for the Cariboo District, was able to reconstruct the key based on the numbered timbers and a plan for the trusses.  He also was responsible for preparing the western approach to the bridge.  His crew dug fill by hand from a nearby hill, moving it to the roadbed in two dump trunks.  They removed enough dirt that subsequently two houses were built on the site.

The early years

The bridge opened to the public on March 8 1929, with an opening ceremony held as part of the annual May Day celebrations.  The construction of the bridge stimulated the growth of West Quesnel and nearby regions, such as Bouchie Lake. 

When the bridge was built, traffic was limited to pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles and the occasional motor vehicle.  The load capacity of 10 tons was adequate, although there was a concern that excessive vibrations could cause the bridge to collapse because the trusses are pinned in place by balancing the forces of compression and tension.  Therefore, as sign with Quesnel’s first speed limit was posted, instructing:  Horses must not exceed a walking pace.  This was Quesnel’s first speed limit.  The bridge served the community’s needs for many years without mishap. The fall cattle drive was an annual event, when ranchers from Nazko, Chilcotin, Batnuni and beyond, drove as many as 400 cattle across the bridge to auction.

An aging community link

Quesnel was the northern terminus of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  During the Second World War, birch was harvested from the west side of the Fraser and was shipped from Quesnel to make plywood for Mosquito bombers.  As the lumber industry grew in the post-war period, the bridge became inadequate for the increased traffic and large logging trucks.  In 1954 stop lights were installed at each end of the bridge to allow one lane of traffic to cross at a time.

Apart from being re-planked in 1941 the bridge received very little maintenance.  In 1948 the Fraser River rose to within a foot of the decking and in 1961 the ice once again had to be blasted with dynamite to break up the huge floes and save the structure.  By the early ’60s it was badly in need of repair, as well as being too narrow.  Erlene Wilkins and Bernice O’Connor wrote a satirical poem capturing the inadequacies of the bridge. Bob Lebeck, a high school student and local performer, set the poem to music and played it on air at CKCQ. The Fraser River Bridge song was a hit, becoming part of the campaign to replace the bridge.  The government commitment to build a new bridge in 1966. The Moffat Bridge was opened in 1971.

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