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Historic Frank Barber designed bridges in the Greater Toronto Area

May 2020

The Greater Toronto Area has many interesting buildings and structures, including several concrete arch and reinforced concrete bowstring arch bridges, all designed by Engineer Frank Barber in the early 20th century.

Three of the Barber-designed bowstring arch bridges stretch across the Humber River as it runs through the City of Vaughan, then known as the Township of Vaughan. Barber most important design innovation was the introduction of concrete into the construction of bridges.  This increased their lifespan dramatically, compared to an average of 20 years for a wooden bridge, and is the primary reason we still have some of his work around 100 years later.

Barber was appointed consulting engineer for the County of York in November 1908, and later engineer for the Townships of Scarborough, Amaranth, Etobicoke, King and Vaughan. 

Barber also designed a similar style bridge over Etobicoke Creek, the Middle Road Bridge, in what was then Etobicoke Township (now Toronto), and a slightly different style concrete arch bridge over the Humber River by The Old Mill, also in Etobicoke, that was designed to look like a stone arch bridge.

McEwan Bridge

Located on an abandoned section of Kirby Road in the City of Vaughan, built in 1923 to carry a single lane of vehicular traffic over the Humber River on Kirby Road. It was closed to traffic in the late 1970s due to deterioration of the structure, and now is part of the Humber Valley Heritage Trail.

Since its closure to traffic, the City of Vaughan has allowed it to continue to deteriorate to the point where its structural integrity is in question. Despite an Environmental Assessment study in 2010 recommending full restoration for continued use as a river crossing for the trail users, and as a heritage structure, no restoration work has been done.

Old Major MacKenzie Drive Bridge

The oldest of the bridges designed by Barber is the one on Old Major Mackenzie, built in 1914.

In more recent years, this single-lane bridge saw very little traffic. Major Mackenzie Drive was re-routed slightly to the south when the road was widened and thus, this small section dead-ends just past the east end of the bridge, which served just one house on the east side of the Humber River.

This house is now abandoned and the bridge is permanently closed to traffic.

The north side of the bridge is in an advanced state of deterioration, but it gives a pretty clear idea of the wire skeleton inside the bridge. The reinforcing rods are not bound together either through welding or wire ties.

Langstaff Road Bridge

The Langstaff Road was built in 1923, replacing an earlier bridge. The single-lane bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in the 1970s, when Langstaff Road was widened and re-routed one hundred yards to the south.

The bridge became a pedestrian-only bridge for many years afterwards, but deterioration of the structure caused the decking to partially collapse, leaving a big hole. Large pieces of concrete have fallen off the bridge, exposing the steel reinforcing rods to corrosion and deterioration.

Although the Langstaff Road Bridge in listed for potential inclusion on the heritage register, its future is still unknown.

The Old Mill Bridge

Located in Etobicoke near the historic Old Mill, an event venue with a boutique hotel, spa and restaurant, is of a slightly different design than the other Barber-designed bridges in the Greater Toronto Area. Although it too is a concrete arch bridge, the three arches that support the bridge are under the bridge decking, and the fa├žade of the abutments and arches are covered with stone, making it look like a stone bridge.

These features, reminiscent of the stone arch bridges of Roman times, makes the Old Mill Bridge an attractive and historically significant bridge.

Built in 1916, the bridge was a replacement for a multi-span Warren pony truss bridge that was destroyed in an icy flood in March 1914. If fact, the current bridge design is so sturdy, it has endured over a century of spring ice-flows and even Hurricane Hazel in 1954, natural events that have destroyed many other Humber River bridges in the past.

As the Humber River is the dividing line between the former York County and the former Etobicoke Township, their respective crests were carved in stone on either side of the centre arch during the construction.

The two-lane bridge still sees heavy traffic use today, from both motor vehicles and bicycles.

Read my article on the Barber-designed Middle Road Bridge:

Sources: https://hikingthegta.com/2018/04/09/abandoned-kirby-road, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McEwen_Bridge, https://hikingthegta.com/2018/04/29/old-major-mackenzie-drive, https://hikingthegta.com/2018/04/28/boyd-conservation-area, https://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=ontario/oldmill, https://hikingthegta.com/2015/05/13/the-old-mill, https://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/6232614-century-old-bridge-serves-one-vaughan-home-needs-800-000-in-repairs, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Mill_Toronto, https://www.oldmilltoronto.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.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/historic-frank-barber-designed-bridges-in-the-greater-toronto-area/

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