The Bailey Bridge

Not often do fond memories flow back as fluently as they did on a past Thursday lunch hour as I shared a table with two pro-Bailey Bridge enthusiasts at our local Bar-Head eating establishment.

This is situated within a refurbished heritage mill beside a fast-running stream that once produced its power. This old mill is located around the corner just a country block and a stone’s throw from the farm where I now live.

Truth, oft’ times stranger than fiction, they were complete strangers to me, as I to them. Neither recollected reading a single one of my articles, though published weekly, as they still are, for greater than 30 years in the Wellington Advertiser.

They had found out the who, the what, the why, and the where of me, by dropping in to pick up a bag of black-oil sunflower seed at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Guelph. A clerk there, sensing their need of information, suggested that they should make my acquaintance.

Though straying on occasion, our three-hour chat centred on the plight of the aged single-lane Bailey Bridge spanning the Speed River on Niska Road in the south-west corner of Guelph. A short distance downstream, the river is joined by the fast-running Hanlon Creek, which is within the confines of the once was, now defunct, Kortright Waterfowl Park, now owned, I am told, by the Grand River Conservation Authority.

My acquaintance with this bridge dates back to the years of my early teens, if memory fails me not, 13 perhaps 14. I was driven there by H.G. Mack, who owned an upland game farm surrounding the lands of his summertime cottage near Eden Mills, at which I was blessed with the opportunity of often volunteering. He was taking me to show me the land that he was thinking of purchasing for his waterfowl sanctuary. This transaction was to happen the very next week.

We stood on the bridge to overlook where Hanlon Creek’s fast-running waters joined the Speed River. The avian activity we saw on the river, and flying about, indicated strongly that the farm was dead-centre of the north-south migration route; to my eyes, then and now, it was and is God’s glimpse of heaven.

On that bridge I first met Jack Forrestel, who was introduced to me as the farm manager. It was on that bridge that I learned that the farm’s name was to be christened Niska. On that same bridge I learned that Niska was the Cree Indian name for Canada goose – the goose that they dreamed of bringing back from near extinction – the goose that, with the help of God and a sprinkling of widespread farsighted others, they certainly did.

The bridge became a birder’s paradise; its single-lane capacity slows the traffic, keeping road kill to a minimum. There is absolutely no other area surrounding Guelph that more deserves conservation than this little rustic Bailey Bridge – not only for the multitude of people who now care, but for uncounted generations yet to come, as well as for the existing wildlife that continually frequents the surrounding area.

Exercising the courtesy of Google on the Internet, I typed in Bailey Bridge and, lacking the need to search, ample controversy spread before me. It relates that the bridge is slated for replacement to accommodate two-lane passages to the recommended widening of Niska Road. What a heartbreaker!

My thoughts quickly jumped in the direction of feeling sorry. Not sorry for what you may obviously think, but deeply sorry for those far-seeing councillors whose vote will obviously be swayed to self-defeat by biased, last-minute, niggling scare tactics by those who care for little other than the worship of the almighty dollar.

It warms the cobbles of no one’s heart to see far-sighted dreams of the caring vanish like sparkling hoarfrost in the morning sun. This bridge, and the area that surrounds, as Mother Nature presented, is like an uncut diamond. Let’s keep it that way. Why should it not remain as it was and is –  a fascinating green area?

The road bearing the name of the once-was Niska Waterfowl Sanctuary should be quietly closed and made into a much-needed bicycle and walking trail, and the rustic little bridge should be featured as is, accenting as it does, the unique cultural heritage landscape within where it sits.

Come on, readers, you know that I am a bird lover, a tree hugger, addicted to nature, and proud of all three. Talk to your councillors. Make sure they do what is fair, do what is right.

Take care, ‘cause we care.



Barrie Hopkins