Slated for demolition, an old steel-truss bridge on Middlebrook Place now has a group advocating for its reopening.
Closed since 2013, the bridge was nonetheless being used by hikers and cyclists until earlier this year when it was completely barricaded, in keeping with Woolwich Township’s handling of the Peel Street bridge in Winterbourne.
Last year, both Woolwich and Centre Wellington Township – the bridge spans the boundary between the two municipalities – opted to remove the structure rather than spend money repairing it.
The barricading of the bridge sparked a reaction from some Centre Wellington residents who’ve launched an online campaign to retain the span. The move caught users by surprise, says Stephanie Lines-Toohill, community member and a representative for the Facebook group opposing the destruction of the Middlebrook Place bridge.
“It was such a shock – there were no signs there at all. I’ve been walking over that bridge for about the last four years or so at all different times of the day – it’s such a place of beauty and the memorial is there – if there had been signs up or a warning, [but] it was just suddenly ‘bam, they were there,’” she said of the barricades.
The group gathered virtually for the first time on June 17 to discuss ideas about how to save the bridge, drawing on a similar exercise by Winterbourne residents earlier this year to have the Peel Street bridge rehabilitated for pedestrian use.
“We are a caring group of local citizens gathering public support to ask both Woolwich and Centre Wellington councils to revisit the decision to barricade and remove Middlebrook Place bridge,” said Lines-Toohill.
“Everyone just wants it to be pedestrian and bikes, that’s it. Many people go there because it’s a special place. It’s more than just an access, from one side of the river to another, it’s an actual place that people go to spend time in nature. It’s bigger than just a small bridge.
“It’s taking away that feeling that you’re linked to the people that came before; people remember growing up in that area and crossing the bridge,” she said of the reaction to the bridge being closed off.
The group’s efforts have yet to come to the attention of Woolwich officials, who have no plans to change the recommendation to demolish the structure, said director of infrastructure services Jared Puppe.
“There is no effort being put forth by staff at this moment as both councils have endorsed the decision to keep the bridge closed until removal can occur,” he said in an email.
Both townships went through formal environmental review and public consultation period prior to deciding the bridge’s fate.
In that vein, Lines-Toohill said the public may not have been paying close enough attention, at least not until the barricades were erected.
“I don’t think the question was asked to the general public, ‘what would you like to happen to this bridge, here are the options, what do you have to say about it?’ she said. “There would have been public outcry, but maybe it feels like it’s too late.
“I read about Peel Street bridge and there was enough public outcry that the decision was changed. They are changing into a pedestrian bridge. If we could gather enough public support, there is a possibility that the decision could be changed on this bridge, and I thought well I’ll just try – it doesn’t hurt to try,” said Lines-Toohill.
The goal now is to add more community voices to the fledgling group as soon as possible to stop the Middlebrook Place bridge from being torn down, and to have the barricades removed for the people who have enjoyed using it over the years.
“If they would like to have their voice added for public support, then we can take that voice to both councils because it lands on the boundary. If people want to do that, they can follow us on our Facebook page, which is ‘Save Middlebrook Bridge’ [and] they can email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the next few weeks at the bridges we will have postcards and an information poster so we hope that when people go they’ll be able to read up where they can contact,” she said.
“We’re just looking for ways to collect numbers and voices so that council knows that enough people care about the bridge.”
As with Peel Street, the Middlebrook Place bridge has significant historical value. Together, they represent half of the remaining camelback truss bridges in the Region of Waterloo.
According to the township’s environmental assessment study, the Chambers Bridge was originally constructed in approximately 1845 as a wooden bridge over the Grand River. Subsequently, in 1905 the bridge was replaced at the same location with another structure. The Middlebrook Steel Truss Bridge (#180160), as it is currently known, was originally constructed in the early 1930s, and was moved into its current location in 1946, where it replaced the old 1905 structure.
The bridge has undergone a number of repairs in the past 30 years, and was previously closed from 1994 to 2002. The two townships plan to split the $700,000 cost to demolish the structure.