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This article was published 5/7/2015 (2549 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the next few months, the Canadian Pacific Railway yards-crossing study's project advisory committee will release a number of recommendations that could determine how Winnipeggers traverse the CPR yards in the decades to come.
The group was formed after a 2014 engineering report recommended the Arlington Street Bridge be decommissioned as a vehicular bridge by 2020. The study area, however, spans from the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge to the McPhillips Street Underpass.
It is likely some of the recommendations will stir up debate, which is nothing new. Controversy has dogged pretty much every crossing since the first CPR train arrived in Winnipeg in August 1882.
Here is a look back at the history of the first three major crossings: the Salter Street (now Slaw Rebchuk) Bridge (1898); the Main Street Subway (1904); and the Arlington Street Bridge (1912).
THE SALTER STREET BRIDGE
For the first decade-and-a-half after the CPR's arrival, the only way Winnipeggers could get back and forth from the North End was via Main Street. This meant a surface crossing of a set of four tracks at Main Street near Higgins Avenue.
As the amount of train traffic increased, so did the number of delays for those using Main Street.
As frustrating as the situation was becoming, the city wanted to create another crossing further west. The debate came to the floor of council in 1895, and Salter Street-Isabel Street won out over other contenders.
At the city council meeting later that month, the CPR got the go–aheadto build its reinforcedconcrete subway, though it passed by just one vote. Councillors who voted against it walked out of the chamber in disgust. Alderman Henry Fry sarcastically congratulated his colleagues for voting for the 'Main Street sewer.'
In 1898, Dominion Bridge was awarded the contract and construction began in January 1899. The span, more than 300 metres long but just five metres wide, reused portions of the recently demolished Main Street Bridge. It opened with little fanfare later that year.
The Salter Street Bridge found itself obsolete in a matter of just a few years. Built for horse- and ox-drawn traffic, the addition of automobiles made it a dangerous place. Its narrow width, steep grades and lack of proper approach and turning lanes at each footing led to many accidents, some resulting in death. In a May 1909 letter to the editor of the Winnipeg Tribune, "Another Citizen" referred to it as the "Salter Street disgrace."
The debate over replacing the bridge included the first mention of a Sherbrook Street crossing -- a location that would be talked about for decades to come. Though it was the initial favourite of city officials, they reverted back to Salter Street, a shorter route, when the idea of a tunnel under the tracks was suggested.
It is unclear who first floated the idea of a tunnel, but in May 1912, a delegation from the North End Ratepayers' Association appeared at a public works committee meeting with a petition signed by 1,500 people demanding one. This was despite the fact that the hefty $1-million price tag was almost four times what a similar-sized bridge would cost.
The subway idea continued to gain steam among the public and city officials. On May 1, 1913, it was put to a taxpayer referendum and won easily by a 1,903-to-714 margin. One other project that passed at the same referendum was the creation of a new fresh-water supply for the city. Its six-year, $13-million price tag ensured many capital projects, including the tunnel, languished in the planning stages for years.
By the mid-1920s, the Salter Street tunnel was essentially dead, but there was still pressure to replace the dangerous and aging span. The Sherbrook Street bridge idea reappeared, but the city had been slowly carving out a new crosstown highway along the Salter-Isabel route. (The construction of the Mall/Memorial Boulevard in 1925 being the most recent addition.)
The Depression was actually the impetus for building a new bridge. The city was desperate to find "shovel-ready" relief projects for which the federal government paid 50 per cent of the cost and the province another 25 per cent. An added bonus was it used unemployed men as labour, taking them temporarily off the city's relief rolls.
The new bridge was designed in-house by city engineer W.P. Brereton, and it took Dominion Bridge just four months to build the superstructure. More than 2,500 unemployed men were able to get at least a few weeks of work from the project.
The Salter Street Bridge opened on Oct. 26, 1932, ahead of schedule and costing just two-thirds of the original estimate.
The new bridge was designed in–house by city engineer W.P. Brereton, and it took Dominion Bridge just four months to build the superstructure. More than 2,500 unemployed men were able to get at least a few weeks of work from the project. The Salter Street Bridge opened on Oct. 26, 1932, ahead of schedule and costing just two–thirds of the original estimate
THE MAIN STREET SUBWAY
In 1900, the CPR announced major reorganization of its western operations. For Winnipeg, this meant a multi-year construction program that would result in a new CPR depot, the largest hotel in the country and a consolidation of the railway's cargo and repair facilities -- which to that point were scattered in dozens of makeshift buildings along the tracks.
The plan required doubling of the number of tracks that crossed Main Street to eight. It was clear something more than a street-level crossing was needed.
Both the city and CPR agreed an underpass or "subway" made more sense than a bridge at this location. The railway favoured a reinforced concrete structure, and in February 1904, the board of works approved the plan.
It touched off a storm of protest.
Many in the city preferred a steel structure, similar to the truss bridges that still cross the rivers to this day. Opponents had just one week before the recommendation went to city council for a final vote to make their case through delegations and letters to the editor.
It was felt the CPR favoured reinforced concrete because it was cheaper to build and maintain in the long term.
Proponents of steel, though, pointed out their option offered a wider span, meaning fewer and thinner pillars. They criticized what would be the tunnel-like appearance of the sidewalks, noting with steel "a person walking upon one sidewalk could readily see any person passing on the opposite and there is a general airiness in the passage way."
Another plus was a steel bridge required a thinner deck, allowing the subway to be three feet shallower. It was an important consideration not only for the people and animals that would use it daily, but during periods of heavy rains and floods.
At the city council meeting later that month, the CPR got the go-ahead to build its reinforced concrete subway, though it passed by just one vote. Councillors who voted against it walked out of the chamber in disgust. Alderman Henry Fry sarcastically congratulated his colleagues for voting for the "Main Street sewer."
Soon after, construction firm Deeks and Dueck was awarded the $125,000 contract to build this subway and a smaller one at Annabella Street.
The work was difficult as the excavation site often filled with water, and provisions had to be made to allow for the constant flow of traffic throughout construction. In the end, the project cost $200,000 and opened weeks later than expected in November 1904.
THE ARLINGTON STREET BRIDGE
The Arlington Street Bridge was first proposed in 1906 as the Brown Street and Brant Street Bridge. It was to be the second streetcar crossing into the North End, as the original Salter Street Bridge was too rickety for such vehicles.
There was a feeling among many the money that was to go toward this new bridge would be better spent replacing the Salter Street Bridge. As a result, it lost a taxpayer referendum in 1907.
That could have been the end of the project had it not been for Logan Avenue grocer and alderman Archibald McArthur. He became a champion of the proposed bridge, ensuring it again came before taxpayers in 1909, lumped into a clause with a number of other, more popular infrastructure projects. This time it won, and McArthur kept up the pressure on the city to put the project to tender.
In July 1910, the city awarded the $200,000 contract for the bridge superstructure to the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington, England. It appears the project stayed on budget, but not on time. There were long delays for the steel to arrive from England. First expected to open in the fall of 1911, it opened to little fanfare on Feb. 5, 1912.
Many on council who held their nose and supported the bridge did so because they knew the Salter Street tunnel was years away and there was a desperate need for a new streetcar crossing.
They were in for a big surprise.
Streetcar operators and their union said it would be "suicide" to run a car down the steep approaches of the bridge, especially on the south side where it ended at a major intersection. For over a decade the streetcar company, city and union fought over the issue. They finally gave up in 1924, and the tracks were quietly removed without a single streetcar having travelled across it.
The controversies didn't end there. In the 1930s, the bridge was closed for the first of what would be an ongoing series of unexpected, expensive repairs caused mainly by the acrid smoke from locomotives eating away at the road deck.
When elected officials tried finger-pointing, they were reminded their predecessors opted to go with the lowest bid and purchased a superstructure never intended to cross a rail yard. (Cleveland Bridge had been manufacturing bridges for the Blue Nile River region of Sudan around time the Arlington Street Bridge's tender was let.)
The constant headaches councillors were having to deal with were of their own making.
What's in a Street Name?
Christian Cassidy believes that every building has a great story - or 10 - to tell.