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West Montrose residents push for heritage restoration of covered bridge

West Montrose covered bridge [File Photo]

The West Montrose Resident’s Association is continuing its push to have the needed restoration of the covered bridge revert back to its original design.

The Region of Waterloo plan to use steel girders in repairing the bridge has met with pushback from residents, as was on display Tuesday night at a public meeting held at the West Montrose United Church.

“The Region of Waterloo has not finalized the restoration plan and there is still a once in a generation opportunity for us, as a community, to see the bridge restored to function as originally designed in 1880 and in a way that increases its lifespan significantly while enhancing cultural and heritage value,” said WMRA chairperson Kitson Morden.

The bridge was temporarily closed to all traffic in September 2019 due to a crack in one of the floor beams. In April 2021 it was announced that the bridge would undergo a $6-million restoration, with $2.5 million coming from the federal government, $2.08 million from the province and $1.67 million being funded by the region.

“This funding will replace the existing trusses with steel girders, repair and replace the roof, and re-install the fire alarm system,” the region stated in the news release announcing the funding. 

While the region states that “the general view and key features of the bridge will not change,” there is some strong opposition to what the region wants to do. 

“If you let them put another steel truss across this bridge this wood bridge will eventually go in the water because it’s headed there right now,” said Dr. Dan Tingley, senior engineer and wood technologist for Wood Research and Development who spoke to residents at the meeting.

Tingley argued that the bridge has undergone several Band-Aid repairs that have caused more problems. 

“The things that someone 50 years ago or 30 years ago decided to do, the guys 120 years ago would have known better,” he said.

While he acknowledges that repairs are needed “The vast majority of the elements in it are still good today” he said.

Tingley argued that timber and not steel is the way to go when it comes to repairs.

“The minute we turn a timber bridge into a facade and do something else to get the vehicles across it the timber bridge is no longer working,” he said.

He also said that timber has a lower environmental impact than steel or concrete.

“It’s sustainable and carbon friendly, [and yet] we’re still building with steel and concrete everywhere all over the place.

“Now I’m a purist in the sense that I’d like to see the timber bridge to be able to do its own thing and do what it was designed to do. Let’s put the bridge back the way it was,” he said.

Tingley said there are a number of options for the bridge particularly when it comes to load capacity. He acknowledged that the bridge’s original eight ton capacity would not be enough for emergency vehicles as that would require at least a 15-tonne capacity limit.

“It’s a valuable asset. We want it to last another 100 years. So let’s treat it like we want it to last another 100 years,” Tingley said.

“We hope the region sees the merit in his ideas for restoration, and truly by removing some of the “newer” fixes on the bridge, enhancing the heritage value of the covered bridge and not moving towards a historic façade with a modern steel bridge hidden behind it,” Morden said. 

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