reprinted from Red Deer
Advocate (Paul Cowley) March 8, 2011
For nearly a century the Mintlaw Bridge has loomed over the Red Deer
River, the coal black trestle one of our few remaining connections
to the age of steam.
Besides being an impressive piece of railway engineering, the former
Alberta Central Railway, and later, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.
span is a historical treasure and the second longest bridge
of its kind in Alberta.
But time and the elements had taken their toll, and that's what
brought a team of consultants and construction specialists to the
picturesque river valley about six km southwest of Red Deer on
Monday. Their job was to prop up the west end of the bridge, where
decades-old timber supports were being slowly crushed under the
weight of the steel girders above.
A temporary support was put in place until a permanent steel pier
can be slipped under the bridge later this month to eliminate a
dangerous sag that had developed.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood came to watch as a crane from Timcon
Construction (1988) Ltd. hoisted the bridge up a few centimetres so
it could be placed on the new supports.
There is no doubt in Wood's mind that it was worth saving the
bridge, which was sold to the county for $1 in 2009.
"You're kind of in awe when you stand up on the other end and see
how long this structure is. It's amazing.
"I can see this was quite a structure in its day when it was built
-- and it still is."
The view from the end of the bridge is impressive. The span covers
633 metres and towers 33 metres above the frozen river below. Only a
railway bridge in Lethbridge is longer.
"It's definitely part of our heritage," said Wood.
The future of the bridge is undecided. The repair bill for Monday's
work came in at $122,800. But it would cost an estimated $2 million
to provide a new deck, railings, pier repairs and reconnect the two
ends to the banks. A few metres of the bridge was removed many years
ago as a safety measure.
"At this point in time, council has not made a determination (on the
future) of this bridge, but felt it was very important to preserve
this historical site," said the mayor.
The bridge and an associated right of way is owned by the county.
Some in the public would like to see the former railway line become
a walking and cycling path. But the county will go to the public for
input before considering such an ambitious trail project.
Consultant Paul Carrier didn't hide his enthusiasm for the project,
which involved researching original engineering drawings and other
documents. His team at Edmonton-based CIMA+ even tracked down a
document signed by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier approving the
original railway line, which at that time was for the Alberta
"We were excited -- just the sheer history of this project," said
Carrier of their reaction to getting the call to look at the bridge.
Construction on the bridge began in 1911 and was finished a year
later. The pier that had rotted and its concrete base do not appear
to be original, but are likely at least 50 years old.
The last train rolled across the bridge in 1981 and little was done
to maintain it in the following years.
Timcon project manager Stan Cappis said besides the pier problems,
the bridge has held up well over the decades.
"Apparently, it's in really good condition. There was a little bit
of creaking when we lifted it up, but that was to be expected.
"Considering it's close to 100 years old, there was six mm
difference between one side and the other. So it's very rigid
The county is considering what other repairs may be useful. The east
pier may also eventually have to be replaced but it has not rotted