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West Montrose bridge uncovered for TV show

The oldest covered bridge in the country, West Montrose’s “Kissing Bridge” is well known locally. Now, it’s gaining international exposure as the subject of an episode of the television show Heritage Places.

Hosted by Dr. Christopher Cooper – an architect, photographer and writer – the show examines architecturally significant sites in Ontario and the Maritimes.

“‘Heritage Places’ is just simply a show that I’ve created to bring more attention to heritage and beautiful sights that exists in Canada. Right now, our mandate is to be looking at Ontario through to Nova Scotia,” said Cooper. “We are now going to make the West Montrose Bridge or Kissing Bridge the cover girl for this new episode on covered bridges, which will now include New Brunswick, but the focus of the new half hour show will be actually on West Montrose.”

He says when it first aired on the now-defunct IBI TV network, the show was also broadcast in Australia, India and on the BBC, so many people around the world were learning about the Woolwich landmark.

In the currently filmed episode, which first aired in 2014, Cooper discusses the brief history of the bridge but does not go into as much detail as he would like, such as explaining why it is called a kissing bridge. While he didn’t get to have his fill of architectural details in the first show, Cooper is set to have a second chance as the new season of Heritage Places, set to air starting in 2021. The show will not only give the West Montrose bridge more airtime, it’s also going to be the poster child for the episode on cover bridges.

“We are actually building a model of the West Montrose bridge. We’re showing the excitement and how the complete construction of it and interweaving New Brunswick in that episode as we go, obviously leaving a gap where it goes deeper. … But it’s basically the star,” said Cooper. “We are spending a lot more time … making sure that I connect with the viewer and making it much more lively, much lighter. A lot more of the little stories and the little bits that are very interesting rather than showing a bridge and [saying] this is a bridge, and this is the history behind the bridge.”

Built in the early 1880s by architect John Bear, the West Montrose Covered Bridge now stands as the oldest covered bridge in Canada. Wanting a bridge to span the Grand River, John L. Wideman of St. Jacobs put out a tender for the construction in 1880. The bridge was officially opened Nov. 15, 1881 at a cost of just under $3,200. Expected to last between 70 and 80 years at the time of construction, the bridge has undergone restoration – including adding concrete and steel parts to strengthen the aging structure. While some of the two-span bridge has changed since it was built almost 140 years ago, the current form remains true to the original design.

Not the first covered bridge in the area – built before 1835, the Shingle Bridge was the first of its type and lasted 22 years before being destroyed by flood waters – the Kissing Bridge remains the only such structure in the area. It’s been designated as a historic site by the province, alongside other recognitions, and is a major tourist draw in the region.

Cooper expects to be in the Woolwich area this fall to film the new episode showcasing the bridge.

Rediscovering Canada will rebroadcast the first season of Heritage Places starting September 15.

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