CENTRE WELLINGTON – A bridge that spans the Grand River between Woolwich and Centre Wellington townships has become a wedge instead of a link as it is slated for removal.
But a group calling itself the Save Middlebrook Bridge Community Action Group is trying to save the bridge, that is not only historic and culturally significant, they say, but is an important piece of cycling and hiking infrastructure in the region.
The Middlebrook Place bridge spans the river from Middlebrook Place, just off Middlebrook Road, to Weisenberg Road, and while it has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2012, it was still accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.
Steel barricades appeared at the structure in April and now block the way for those users too.
Both municipalities share the cost and upkeep of the bridge and both municipalities agreed in January 2020 that the bridge – in poor repair – should be removed rather than rehabilitated.
Elora resident Mike Walker said he was out for a bike ride in April taking his usual Middlebrook Road loop when he encountered the barricade for the first time.
“I had my last ride across the bridge in March,” he said in an interview in front of the barrier at the bridge.
“In April there was suddenly this zombie barrier.”
Stephanie Lines-Toohill also frequents the bridge. For her it’s usually on foot and with her dog in tow.
“There should be a citizen engagement assessment tool,” she said, adding that while there was one public meeting hosted by Woolwich Township on the matter in 2018, it was not well-advertised or well-attended and many bridge users are only learning now that it’s going to be removed.
Lines-Toohill said there are dozens of cycling and hiking groups that use the bridge regularly, not to mention numerous people who come to fish, ride horses, or just to take in the natural beauty of the area. All-told that’s thousands of people who regularly used this bridge, she said.
The bridge is a pin-connected Pratt camelback through truss bridge thought to be built in 1913 and relocated to the site in the 1930s or 40s.
It is just one of four in Waterloo Region. It used to be called the Chalmers bridge as farms belonging to the Chalmers family were on either side of the river.
Some might see a rusty old conveyance, “but I see it and imagine who built each piece,” Lines-Toohill said.
“It was hand-crafted by skilled labourers. There’s such a connection to history and the farming community and nature out here.”
GM Blue Plan did an environmental assessment for Woolwich Township in 2018 which explained the bridge was in poor condition then, with corroded stringers, rivet heads and bearings and a sagging surface.
It recommended removing the bridge at a cost of about $550,000, and installing turn-around circles at the ends of the roads on both sides of the river.
The cost to replace the bridge for vehicles was pegged at $3.5 million; cost to construct a pedestrian-only bridge was $900,000, according to that 2018 report.
Walker and Lines-Toohill delegated at Woolwich council’s meeting on Aug. 24 and they intend to delegate to Centre Wellington council too, hoping to convince both councils to reverse the decision to remove the bridge.
In the meantime, they’ve started a Facebook page, Save Middlebrook Bridge, and are starting a poster campaign, to draw attention and awareness to the issue.
Those interested can reach out through Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.