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Historic bridge still standing despite efforts to replace it with a new bridge

August 2021

The Caledonia Bridge, in Caledonia, Ontario, also known as the Grand River Bridge and the Argyle Street Bridge, is a historic bridge that crosses over the Grand River. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation, who have jurisdiction over the bridge, has been undertaking efforts to replace the aging structure for around two decades, and

Built in 1927, it is the first nine span, reinforced concrete, bowstring arch bridge built in Canada, and is now the only one still standing.

The bridge spans 700 feet in length and 72 feet, 7 inches wide, with two lanes for traffic and pedestrian sidewalks on either side, resting on two abutments and eight piers. Each of the arches are 105 feet in length, larger than many other bowstring arch bridges in Ontario, towering over most of the vehicles that travel across the bridge.

This was the fifth bridge that crossed the Grand River in Caledonia, replacing three wooden bridges, the first dating back to 1836, and an iron bridge, built in 1875. This iron bridge stood until 1925, when a truck carrying a load of stone collapsed an entire span.

The Toll House

To recoup the more than $33,000 the town spent to build the Caledonia Bridge, a toll house was built at the north end of the bridge. This small red and buffed brick, gabled, Gothic Revival house, not only served as a toll booth, but was also the home to the bridge’s toll-keeper. Wagons with two horses were charged two pence for a same-day round-trip, while pedestrians paid one pence.

Pedestrians paid one pence while a wagon with two horses paid two pence for a same-day return crossing.

Although tolls were discontinued long ago, the Toll House remains standing. It was designated a historic site in 1988, and added to the Canadian registry of historic sites in 2009. It is the third oldest building in Caledonia and is used as a private residence today.

The house was owned by Lorrie Harcourt, who ran a hairstyling business in an extension at the back of the house, from the late 1980s until 2020, when it was expropriated by the Ontario government as part of the bridge reconstruction, citing safety concerns of a residence being so close to a construction site. Plans do call for it to be preserved.

Bridge replacement delays continue

For around 20 years, it has become apparent that the aging bridge is in need of restoration, or more likely, replacement, despite being on the Ontario Heritage Bridge List. Construction on a new bridge was supposed to start back in 2016, but five years of delays have resulted in no progress. The bridge continues to have load restrictions imposed upon trucks crossing it.

With only six more years until its centenary, the Caledonia Argyle Street Bridge just might live to see its second century of use.

Sources: Grand River Bridge (Ontario) – Wikipedia, Caledonia Bridge – HistoricBridges.org, Province can expropriate Caledonia’s historic Toll House | TheSpec.com, Concerns raised over condition of Argyle Street Bridge | TheSpec.com, Caledonia’s Toll House now boarded up – The Haldimand Press, Microsoft Word – 06EA-316_Argyle Bridge Report_May 2009 FINAL.doc, Heritage & Culture: Caledonia Ontario (caledonia-ontario.com), Where Will All the Swallows Go? | The Bay Observer, No work on Caledonia’s Argyle Street bridge this year, says Ministry of Transportation | TheSpec.com, .

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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