It was a hot day, after several hot days, in the mid-1960s. A bunch of kids was hanging around Assiniboine Park’s footbridge. One teen, stripped down, stood on the edge of the bridge and then jumped the 20 feet into the Assiniboine River. There was a huge splash. A crowd stared to collect. Couples pushing prams stopped and watched, a touch football team stopped the game and watched; just about everybody stopped and watched. The kid, seeing that he now had an audience, jumped into the water again, then ran back for another try. He was just about to jump a third time when a local teenager walked over and said:
"I wouldn’t do that." The jumper was about to give the traditional two-word answer when he thought better of it and asked:
"You see those guys playing football? They needed the space for a field, so they took all the park benches and threw them off the bridge. Right about here."
The jumper and the local looked at the line of teens silently watching him, then down at the water.
"They’re amazed you’ve missed them. So far."
Still in the late 1960s: That spring, a large ice dam accumulated just upstream of the footbridge, and someone with the city who probably later really regretted it, decided to take a satchel of dynamite, jam it in the ice dam, and blow it to smithereens.
It didn’t go well.
The word went out about the city’s plan, so a bunch of us local kids ran down to watch. We didn’t have long to wait.
After they cleared the bridge and the riverbanks of spectators, two black figures lowered a long ladder from the bridge to the ice below. Then the two climbed down and clambered over the broken ice to the jumble that was damming the river.
They buried the satchel and lit the fuse.
The exact moment they lit the fuse, the ice started to move on its own. The ice dam now became an ice floe. An ice floe with two terrified city employees at one end and a pound of lit dynamite at the other.
Everybody on the riverbanks screamed: "RUNRUNRUNRUNRUNNNNN!!" A woman standing beside me held her mouth in horror. We teenage boys thought this was the neatest thing we had ever seen.
The first figure made it up the ladder and turned to hold it for the other figure. The ladder that was once resting on ice at the correct angle now had an angle of less than zero. The poor second figure had to frantically climb up a now-reversed ladder. On the last two rungs, he was actually climbing backwards.
They scrambled over the wall. Then they heaved up the ladder. With ladder in hand, they sprinted so fast it was like they were trying to qualify for the Manitoba Games.
Half of the explosion shot ice 25 to 30 metres in the air and the other half of the explosion hit the underside of the footbridge. I’ll bet if you go under the bridge even today, if you know where to look, you’ll see pockmarks.
September, 1969: With about as much planning as most people do for an overnight camp-out, my friend John Van Landeghem and I, hurriedly loaded up a five-metre canoe and shoved off from under the footbridge. In just over three months after that, and a whole lot wiser; we arrived in New Orleans.
About 30 years after we got back from our canoe trip down the Mississippi, somebody suggested I write a book about it. When the book was released, the publisher had placed a picture my father had taken on the cover. In the picture, right behind the two naive teenagers in an overloaded canoe, is the Assiniboine Park Footbridge.
Everything is temporary. The houses we live in, the highways we drive on, the bridges we build; all will eventually disappear. It will come to pass that everything we know and love is gone; even the footbridge will return to dust. Yet I can see in some far-distant future an archeologist down on his hands and knees in some ancient mount of dust saying: "What the hell are park benches doing here?"
Rick is a longtime resident of St. James and Transcona. He’s also a journeyman boilermaker, a journeyman welder and a published author; go figure. His third book, Bittersweet Sands, about Fort McMurray, is due out in August.
Rick has three daughters, four grandchildren and several half-finished manuscripts, and just sold his boat in the Florida Keys. Because he wants a bigger boat. Rick’s web page: http://rickranson.com/