This article first appeared in our August 2016 print edition.
Stepping off the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Beaver in 1859, Col Moody faced a wall of massive trees—an ancient forest where the only signs of people were Native trails and a narrow village along the river. Founding a new city meant growth and movement, getting from A to B. For the Royal Engineers, that meant building bridges.
A bridge is rich in symbolism: it reaches for new places, makes connections where none existed, and links ‘what if?‘, us and them, and technical innovation. In the early days of our city, the need to “get my wagon across that damn gulley!” was reason alone.
The first bridges of New Westminster were timber structures that spanned numerous creeks to create our modern roads, like Columbia Street. As the city grew so did the scale and complexity of its bridges.
In 1904, the railroad bridge to South Westminster was built—the first span to cross the lower Fraser River. Amazingly for the day, the wooden top deck of the bridge was built for cars. This bridge is with us still—albeit without the cars— and is an intriguing example of 19th-century engineering.
In 1937, the Pattullo Bridge, named for provincial premier “Duff” Pattullo, opened. The bridge has a graceful through-arch design, its arch an iconic parabola exactly follows the structural load profile—math made visible. The mid-century modern colour scheme of soft blue and pale orange is unique.
Other bridges of New Westminster include footbridges in parks like Glenbrook Ravine. The traditional offset wooden footbridges found in Friendship Gardens which links New Westminster with its sister cities in Asia, have a gentle zen-like rise, emphasizing one’s passage “over” what lies below.
The Quayside timber rail bridge is a thrill for kids on the footpath underneath when the noisy locomotive trundles right overhead. The timbers creak and groan but do their job well.
Alas, many bridges in New Westminster are simply paved roads. Gullies are filled and culverts replace creeks in our rush to flatten and obscure nature. What started as a simple need to get a wagon to the other side has led to a loss of topography. Perhaps current ideas to “daylight” our streams could foster new bridges over reclaimed waterways, such as Tipperary Creek as it crosses Royal Avenue.
One bridge that we know is coming will surely be, like nearly every bridge ever built, a design marvel and something we will wonder how we lived without. The proposed Q2Q bridge as it is known (the pedestrian bridge connecting the Quayside neighbourhood to Queensborough), will likely be the longest pedestrian span in Canada. The possibilities and implications are fascinating.
* From the City of New Westminster’s Memory Band information: “Around the time that a site for the capital of the united Victoria and British Columbian Colonies was being considered, “Stump City” became a derogatory term for New Westminster, coined by some Victoria‐based newspapers. The nickname was derived from the fact that the site for New Westminster needed to be cleared for settlement and this process left many stumps in place, as can been seen in some early photos.”