Gaspereaux Bridge


Thursday, January 31, 1952

Ancient Picturesque Bridge Blown Up To Make Way For New

click for larger image
500 KB

One of Nova Scotia’s most famous man-made landmarks is no more.

At 12.35, Monday, a single dynamite blast split the picturesque covered bridge at Horton Landing and plunged it in two sections into the swirling tides of the Gaspereaux River.

Almost as soon as the floating trusses had been securely moored to either bank, waiting highways crews began the work of assembling an army type Bailey bridge which was expected to be ready for service in 24 hours.

Meanwhile traffic detoured through the Gaspereaux Valley.

Demolition was carried out exactly as planned, without a single hitch of any kind.

If anything, separation of the bridge superstructure from the abutments that had supported it for 76 years was even cleaner than the engineers had expected.

The original covered bridge was erected in 1872, but was destroyed by fire. In 1876, it was replaced by the sturdy structure so familiar to present day motorists from all parts of North America. Few objects in this province have been so often photographed.

Purpose of its outside planking was to protect from the elements the vital members of the wood truss frame which otherwise would have had a life of only about 20 years, as timber deteriorates in this climate.

Bridges located on tidal estuaries with their constantly shifting channels and mud banks are notoriously hard to maintain, and this one was no exception. Generations of engineers wrestled with its problems which last year became acute.

Every effort was made to save the relic as a continuing covered bridge, but the frame had become so twisted by the storms of three-quarters of a century that its replacement became absolutely unavoidable.

No small element in the decision for its disappearance was the foolhardiness of truck drivers who, even though notified of its weakness and asked not to put more than one machine on the bridge at a time, risked their lives by going on it with two and even three heavy trucks at once. As late as Monday morning, a half-ton trucker pleaded to be allowed to cross, and was only deterred when he saw that the whole floor had been taken up.

Two months ago, preparations began for removal of the superstructure.

The planking was stripped from its sides and top, showing the big timbers still remarkably strong and sound. But at their bases, where they joined the lower stringers of the chord, were found some beginning to decay, and battered from the stress of weather and heavy traffic.

After the 140-foot span had been finally closed to traffic, workmen took out the steel flooring installed some years ago.

The highest tide predicted for this season was selected for the last act in the little drama, which was under direction of J. Phillip Vaughan, C. E., Bridge Engineer for the Nova Scotia department of Highways.

Bridge Superintendent Joseph A. Gibson skillfully placed the 16 sticks of dynamite deemed sufficient to do the job. The fifth vertical post from the east (Windsor) end of the bridge – that is, about quarter of the way across – was chosen as the place for the break.

Four sticks, securely tamped with heavy marsh mud, were placed on the lower stringer around the base of the post. Half-way up,

(Continued on Page 5)


(Continued from Page 1)

where a wooden arch member intersected, two more were placed, while a final pair were tamped to the upper stringer at the top of the post.

Exactly similar charges were placed around the fifth post across the road on the other chord of the bridge, and all attached by long wires to a firing switch on the west bank, where had assembled quite a gathering of citizens and notables including Hon. M. D. Rawding, Minister of Highways; D. D. Sutton and W. H. Pipe, MLAs for Kings County; J. L. Wickwire, Chief Engineer of the Highways department; F. E. Shreehan, General Superintendent of Steel Bridge; H. I. North, Highways Superintendent for Kings.

A deeply interested spectator was Horace West, of nearby Cornwallis, whose father, Adolphus West, a shipwright, had made and placed the massive ship’s knees still uniting the top-cross-members to the chords. From the road, they appeared as fresh and strong as when placed there nearly eight decades ago.

Under direction of Foreman Vern Hannigar, some workmen brought ashore heavy planks that for a slippery footpath from bank to bank across the gaping stringers. Others with axes and crosscut saws attacked vital points indicated by the engineers. How delicately the bridge was poised in its last moments may be judged from the fact that when one crew of sawyers finished their cut, the beam had closed so firmly on the steel saw that axes had to be used to drop it clear and save it.

Meanwhile, the tide rose steadily until the surface was about four feet under the floor – the point desired. There was a last minute delay while engineers of the Avon River Power Company hastily cut off the current on their 2,200 volt line close to the down-river side of the bridge.

If anything had gone wrong and the bridge carried these wires "live" into the Gaspereaus, every community in the Annapolis Valley would have been without power, and every living thing for a mile around knocked out by shock.

By this time, several movie cameras and innumerable stills were focussed upon the bridge awaiting the signal – a long blast of an auto horn.

Supt. Gibson closed the switch, there was a light puff of smoke and a resounding bang like the report of a 25-pounder. The bridge broke in two neatly at the fifth post. The ends slid off the abutments into the tide which immediately carried them upstream.

A projecting beam of shorter section fouled the hanging cable of the Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Company, and for a few minutes it looked as if the post would be carried away, but the stout cedar held, and intrepid workmen from a dory clambered up the floating bridgework and dragged it clear. Blocks and tackles, attached in advance, speedily hauled the wreckage inshore, where it was stoutly secured.

The crowd began to drift away. Venturesome souls who had crossed on the footpath earlier in the day and left their cars on the east bank now found themselves marooned. They persuaded a man in a dory to begin an improvised ferry service.

Chief Engineer Wickwire, who as division engineer in the Valley had many times coped with the idiosyncrasies of the old bridge, spoke the thought that was in the minds of many present:

"It is like losing an old friend. I just had to come down to see it go."