Rehabilitation or Replacement? Heritage Value of the CPR Bridge to be Considered

John Dance

In an advanced state of deterioration and without any heritage
status at present, the CPR railway bridge is a prime candidate for
demolition and replacement; but a local community heritage
expert believes the historic landmark should be designated a
heritage site and preserved and rehabilitated.

Should the 124 year-old CPR bridge over the Rideau River just east of Lees avenue be fixed or demolished and replaced?

City staff propose to conduct an environmental assessment of the bridge and a possible replacement. However, heritage expert and Sandy Hill resident Barry Padolsky recommends that the CPR bridge should be designated under the provincial Heritage Act so that, rather than being replaced, it would likely be refurbished.

A 1956 aerial photo of Old Ottawa East shows the community’s extensive rail infrastructure. Now, only the CPR rail bridge over the Rideau River, just south of the Queensway (middle right), remains and it may be demolished if it doesn’t get heritage protection. Image by GeoOttawa

A 1956 aerial photo of Old Ottawa East shows the community’s extensive rail infrastructure. Now, only the CPR rail bridge over the Rideau River, just south of the Queensway (middle right), remains and it may be demolished if it doesn’t get heritage protection. Image by GeoOttawa

The bridge was converted from rail to pedestrian and cyclist use decades ago and, despite three major rehabilitations, the “bridge currently shows advanced deterioration and is being inspected annually to ensure safety until the renewal can take place,” says Lesley Collins, the City’s program manager of the heritage branch.

Currently, the bridge has no heritage status although it is the last of the three railways bridges that crossed the Rideau River into Old Ottawa East and Sandy Hill. The impact of the railways was profound in shaping the communities and by providing a major component of the local economy.

“In 2018, the City retained Parsons Inc. to conduct a condition assessment and renewal scoping study for the bridge,” Collins has written to the City’s Built Heritage Sub-Committee (BHSC). “The report presented two options: major rehabilitation or structure replacement. The rehabilitation option would have a 25-year service life and the replacement option would have a 75-year service life.

Based on engineering assessments, staff in the Asset Management Branch have made a primary determination that the replacement option is preferred; however, a detailed evaluation of both alternatives will take place through the Environmental Assessment process.”

This process will include a cultural heritage evaluation report on the bridge, however, Padolsky notes that these actions “do not commit the City, to initiate a designation under the Ontario Heritage Act,” something he feels is necessary to have the bridge restored.

Consequently, at the next meeting of BHSC, Padolsky will be seeking assent for a motion that “The City heritage staff undertake an assessment of the heritage value of this eight-span half-deck plate-girder bridge with the objective of designating the structure under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act as a step towards preserving and rehabilitating this historic landmark.”

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