December 10, 2019

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Opinion

City removes romantic markers from bridge

A lone love lock has appeared on the railway pedestrian bridge spanning the Assiniboine River between the Omand's Creek Greenway and Wellington Crescent. The city recently removed many more.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A lone love lock has appeared on the railway pedestrian bridge spanning the Assiniboine River between the Omand's Creek Greenway and Wellington Crescent. The city recently removed many more.

It started with a report about missing padlocks.

Love locks, to be more precise.

Lots and lots of locks local lovers had attached forever to the fencing beside the bike-and-pedestrian path that runs alongside the railway bridge connecting Wellington Crescent with the Omand's Creek Greenway. Which is how, early Thursday afternoon, I came to be standing on the bridge — on the railway tracks, actually — in hopes of looking at the riverbank on the other side.

Which is when I heard her voice.

"You shouldn't be on the railway tracks."

The woman, grey-haired and smartly dressed in a summer dress, was walking on the bridges adjacent bike-pedestrian path.

"I'm not 10 years old," I replied indignantly, as my own grey hair blew in the wind.

"I'm a mother," she explained.

I got that, and smiled.

And later I understood even more about her concern. Her father had been a railway engineer. And as it turned out, Charlotte Westdal — as she introduced herself when I introduced myself — was a regular on the path beside the railway bridge her father might also have crossed in his day.

"I've been going back and forth across this bridge for 40 years," she said, rather proudly. "I'm a lot older than I look," she quickly added.

By that time we were both laughing and I had obediently left the rail bridge and joined her on the walkway.

If Charlotte was that much of a regular, maybe she knew what happened to the love locks.

That's what I wanted to ask her about, I told her. Earlier in the day one of my newsroom colleagues, photo editor Mike Aporius, had relayed a text from a friend of his wife's who suggested the Free Press should look into why the city removed all the "beautiful locks."

"So sad," the text concluded. "Why wouldn't they remove the garbage and abandoned shopping carts in the river... ?"

Actually, that's what had been on the railway tracks when Charlotte happened by. I was trying to peek over and see if there was really a lot of garbage in the riverbank.

"Oh, of course," Charlotte said of the missing love locks. "There used to be little padlocks along here. They were here for a long time. It was a takeoff on the Paris thing."

The Paris thing started it all.

Charlotte Westdal and the area on the bridge where the love locks were before the city took them all down.

Charlotte Westdal and the area on the bridge where the love locks were before the city took them all down.

Years ago, lovers began leaving love locks on the railing of the Pont des Arts, the 19th-century pedestrian bridge near the Louvre. Then the trend spread to Pont de l'Archevêché, near the Notre Dame Cathedral and then...

And then Winnipeg's railway bridge near River Heights, among other romantic worldwide locales.

But by last June, with a reported million love locks weighing a estimated 45 tonnes threatening to leave parts of the Pont des Arts in the Seine, the locks were cut off and carted away.

So is that why the love locks were removed from our romantics' railway bridge, while the graffiti and the garbage was left behind?

"I don't know what happened to them," Charlotte said, "and I don't know why they were removed, either. I think it was because it was getting too much. There were lots and lots of them. They were getting really crowded."

But surely, our big and strong old railway bridge can stand a little love-lock hugging. What, I asked Charlotte, has the city got against love?

She laughed again.

"It's kind of cuckoo," Charlotte agreed.

At that point, Charlotte couldn't have known how cuckoo, or laughable, the city's reason for removing the love locks was. I would only learn later when I inquired with a city media handler and she replied via email.

"The locks in question were removed by city staff on Aug. 31 after the city received a complaint that a user had been seriously injured after coming in contact with one or more of the locks."

Seriously?

And how seriously could anyone be injured by love locks?

"According to the complaint," the media handler answered when I asked, "an individual was cut after making contact with one or more of the locks and required stitches."

The love locks left someone in stitches. No wonder the city took down all those dangerous love locks and trucked them all away.

Back on the bridge, Charlotte and I knew none of that then, of course. So we just chatted about love locks and life and having grey hair and getting older. And then, as she walked away, she said, "Lovely meeting you."

And, naturally, I blew her a kiss.

Then, the way 10-year-old boys do, I snuck back on the railway tracks to look over the side for that garbage the city hasn't removed. Until, way in the distance, I heard her voice again.

At first I thought she was telling me to get off the railway bridge again.

Then I heard why she really sounded so excited.

"I found a lock," she shouted. "They're starting over."

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Friday, September 4, 2015 at 6:27 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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