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|The waterways that created the original independence of the village of Ottawa East later became formidable barriers to travel and commerce. In the 1870's, when Archville was established, there was little need for a readily accessible crossing over the river or canal. Most business was conducted in the city that could be reached via the Canal Road along the east bank of the canal. The "Glebe" was a collection of market gardens and across the Rideau River were large farms accessed via the Hurdman Bridge.|
|By the end of the 1880's however, the demand for a connection between the village and Elgin St. intensified. Many villagers now made their living in the city and the lack of a convenient connection to downtown was a hardship. In 1889 the federal government agreed to build a swing bridge from Argyle Ave. to Cedar St. (Harvey St. projected). Completed in 1890 the bridge was set on timber cribs filled with rock and the superstructure was made of iron and wood. While convenient for pedestrians and horse-drawn wagons, it could not accommodate heavy loads of brick, coal or wood. This bridge is often referred to as the Argyle or Archville Bridge.|
|From this point on there was continuous discussion between
the federal authorities and the village council (and later the city) regarding
an additional bridge in the southern part of Ottawa East. Many favoured
a connection between Mutchmor St. (later Fifth Ave.) and Clegg St. This
idea persisted up to 1955.
In 1909 the city entered into negotiation with the Ministry of Railroads and Canals and the Ottawa Improvement Commission (later the National Capital Commission) to provide a "high level" bridge in the vicinity of the swing bridge. One idea was to build a "low level" bridge from Strathcona Ave. to Graham Ave. but the idea was discarded as being inadequate for future needs.
The wheels of government turn slowly as everyone knows and finally in
1914 the Ministry agreed to contribute $40,000 towards the operation and
maintenance of the bridge (City Report #5, March 2, #4, page 70). The
city Board of Control recommended that the bridge be built to connect
Pretoria Ave. with Hawthorne Ave. By October the city engineer had submitted
the plans for approval. The city report of January 18, 1915 (Report #2,
page 20) indicates the J. B. Strauss Co. of Chicago had received the contract
to build a "direct lift bridge" at the recommended location.
|A history of the bridge prepared by the City of Ottawa Public Works Department lists the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company as the contractor that planned and supervised the construction. The contractors included: the R. Brewder Co. for the substructure ($26,595); and the Dominion Bridge Co. for the superstructure ($66,798). The city paid $120,000 and the federal government contributed $40,000. The final agreement was signed on August 10, 1915 (No. 21557) and included a lease for use of the land along with a stipulation that "said bridge . . . be designed and used for carriage of electric street railway traffic". With this requirement, Ottawa East would now have public transit.|
The bridge opened for traffic on November 2, 1917 with a load capacity of 12 tons. It was named after Pretoria Ave. which was the major traffic approach from the west at the time. Isabella St. was used principally for access to the rail yards that were adjacent (now the Queensway). Pretoria Avenue (originally Jane St.) was named in 1902 after the capital of South Africa. Council at that time wanted to commemorate the victory of the British in the Boer War.
The opening of the bridge had a profound effect on Ottawa East. The electric trolley now connected the end of Elgin St., under the railway subway built in 1903 to Clegg St. The small park that exists today at the corner of Main and Clegg was originally used for the vehicle to turn around. Pretoria Bridge now permitted the movement of heavy vehicles to and from the east-side of the canal. It must be remembered that the original plan of the city in annexing Ottawa East was to develop an "industrial park" here. Coal and lumber that arrived by rail in the freight yards of Ottawa East could now be delivered directly across the canal to the southern part of the city. As well, daily truckloads of garbage could be efficiently transported to the landfill (garbage dump) and incinerator sites at the end of Lees Ave. This was to be Ottawa East's contribution to the "Pittsburgh of the North" vision described in the annexation hyperbole of 1907. The community continued to be the repository of city waste for decades after. There is more on this story here.
|There are many memories associated with Pretoria Bridge and
its operation. The bridge for example had an uncanny ability to become locked
in the "up" position especially at rush hour. Most early residents
will remember long lines of traffic stalled down Main St. and sitting in
their cars on sweltering afternoons impatiently watching the mast tips of
American luxury boats slowly sail under the bridge. A favourite activity
of local boys was to wait for the safety gates to close and then jump onto
the rising center span. With the bridge keeper busy at the controls, the
trick was to enjoy the ride and then jump down and run like hell as the
span descended. More fun than a video game!
In 1956 the deck of the bridge was rebuilt at a cost of $140,000; traffic
approaches were altered in 1958; and extensive repairs were undertaken
to the bridge in 1963. In 1967 the city commissioned a study to investigate
other alternatives including a tunnel but nothing was done. The bridge
became the responsibility of the Regional Government in 1969 and with
increasing costs of operation and repair approved the complete rebuilding
of the bridge in April of 1977. In 1979 the bridge was demolished and
new underwater piers were built. A footbridge was constructed just north
of the location to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. The contractor,
Hugh M. Grant, built the superstructure and installed the mechanical and
electrical systems in 1980. Final work was completed in 1981 for a total
cost of $5,280,252.
|Pretoria Bridge today looks almost exactly as it did in 1917. Apart from some cosmetic changes, the original design and stone work were preserved and today is considered to be a heritage structure. And notwithstanding the Queensway, Smyth Road Bridge and Colonel By Drive, Pretoria remains the gateway to the village.|
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