Recently repaired and opened to traffic, the West Montrose covered bridge will be pedestrian’s only for a while next Monday for a much better reason, as community members gather for the annual carol sing.
The BridgeKeepers organization is hosting the outing that harkens back to a Christmas tradition as carollers channel the holiday spirit. From O Holy Night to Deck the Halls, the song list includes a mix of traditional and fun-filled songs we all know and love.
“When I was a kid we used to go door to door and knock on doors, sing carols, and you’d get a quarter or something for singing a couple of songs,” said Tony Dowling, who originally came up with the carolling event back in the late-‘80s.
Instead of walking through the neighbourhood, neighbours from near and far come to the bridge for the atmosphere of a traditional Christmas.
“It’s just an opportunity for people to get together and celebrate and socialize for the season,” he noted.
Soon after moving to West Montrose, Dowling and his wife went for a walk one winter night through the bridge, and as Dowling started to sing Silent Night and thought to himself, “Holy cow that sounds pretty good.” That quickly sparked an idea for Dowling as a member of the Elmira Kiwanis Club, and together they helped to turn it into a tradition that brings out some 100 carollers each year.
Due to the busy holiday season, the Kiwanis Club passed on the carolling event to the BridgeKeepers to carry on the tradition. The West Montrose group has pared it back somewhat, as the event had become something of victim of its own success.
“There were too many people for the bridge to handle,” Dowling said. “After that, we scaled it back just because we thought if we’re getting hundreds of people out, it’s just not the community event we have envisioned.”
One of the main concerns about the event this year was whether the bridge would be repaired in time for the event, says Dowling, who had been keeping up with the progress of the restoration work.
When the bridge was closed down earlier this year due to a crack in two of the supporting beams, there was a flashback to nearly 11 years ago when the same thing happened, explained Dowling.
“It was a concern – we had this happen when there was a beam broken on the bridge and it was actually closed through the Christmas season,” he said.
Even with the closure, the event continued on, however, as people gathered in a church parking lot where the group had parked the covered bridge float used for the Santa Claus parade.
“We sort of just gathered around that covered bridge and sang so we still had a covered bridge carol sing,” Dowling recalled.
Now with the bridge repaired and back to full strength, there is an opportunity to gather and sing for this year’s event. In previous years the carollers would stand in the middle of the bridge but that became too much so now the singers are asked to go towards the north end of the bridge to meet and join in on the festivities to avoid any hardship to the bridge.
After a night of singing there will be hot cider and cookies provided by the general store in West Montrose. The BridgeKeepers are also asking people bring donations for the Kiwanis Food Drive that will help the local community.
Those who want to take part in the festivities are asked to meet at the north end of the West Montrose bridge on December 9 at 7 p.m.