Developers promoted Elm Park as the "most attractive residential property" of all back in Winnipeg’s ‘high noon’ of 1912 when construction of the Elm Park Bridge over the Red River first began.
Now a footbridge and a city landmark sometimes known as the BDI Bridge because of its location next to the Bridge Drive-In and its tremendous popularity as a scenic ‘ice-cream stroll,’ the bridge is a century old this year.
"It’s truly a landmark in the city," says BDI manager Roger Brisebois of the bridge. "I’m glad that the decision was made to refurbish it rather than demolish it." A few years back, he says, there was talk of repairing it or closing it.
In fact, the historic bridge was almost never built there and has been a frequent visitor to death’s doorstep over the years.
In 1964, Marjorie Gillies wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press, "since the first talk of its erection various officials wanted it built at the foot of Osborne Street."
The Elm Park Company forged ahead and built the 18-foot vehicular bridge linking Jubilee Avenue to Riverdale Avenue in its exclusive new development.
According to Gillies, the official opening was March 14, 1914 and Joseph Snowdon who built the first house in the development at 371 Kingston Cres. marked the occasion by driving the first car — a Cadillac — over the bridge.
Advertisements touted the area as "the healthiest spot in Winnipeg," and as the city’s nearest thing to a "lakeside watering place."
In fact, Elm Park and River Park across the river were once popular picnic and amusement parks run by James Austin, owner of the Winnipeg Street Railway Company.
It’s said that Elm Park contained a merry-go-round, dance pavilion, bandstand and a restaurant. Many built cottages in the area to avoid long trips to the lake.
A pontoon bridge once connected the two parks until construction of the ‘new’ steel bridge.
Repaired many times over the years, the bridge has bravely faced numerous threats of closure.
It was almost scrapped in the 1940s when repairs were needed and again in the 1960s when the St. Vital Bridge opened. The steel superstructure survived a destructive fire and the floods of the 1950s. In 1966, area residents suggested the tiny bridge remain open for pedestrian use only and in the 1990s when more repairs were needed, the bridge narrowly escaped its demise again.
Bob Holliday, president of the St. Vital Historical Society, recently stated there’s been talk of celebrating the opening of the bridge that occurred in 1914. Although details haven’t been worked out, he says "There will be a celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of both the St. Vital Museum and the bridge in 2014."
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg-based writer who loves to write about all things Manitoban.
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