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The West Montrose Covered Bridge – Ontario’s last remaining covered bridge

September 2020

In the Woolwich Township community of West Montrose, sits the last covered bridge in Ontario. Quite fittingly, the area is heavily populated by Old Order Mennonites, the black-garbed traditionalists, who drive their horse-drawn wagons and buggies across this bridge, just like their Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors did two centuries ago.

Covered bridges were quite popular in regions like Lower Canada (Quebec) and New Brunswick throughout the 19th century, and hundreds of covered bridges remain standing today in these provinces.

In a time when wood was inexpensive and commonly used in bridge construction, designers saw the benefit of adding walls and roofs to slow deterioration caused by rain, snow and the sun. Covered bridges, a timber-truss structure with a roof, decking and siding, commonly have a life-span of 100 years, five times the usual life-span of uncovered wooden bridges.

Despite this, British Army road builders in Ontario preferred other bridge styles, which is why so few were constructed.

The West Montrose bridge was built in 1881 by John and Sam Bear. Stretching across the Grand River, this 200-foot red wooden bridge is the only survivor of around a dozen covered bridges that once dotted Ontario. A rare feature of this bridge is the 6-foot overhang above the entrances at both ends.

Once illuminated by twenty shuttered windows and coal-oil lanterns, lighting is now provided by electric lights. Another significant change came around 1900, when concrete abutments replaced the original wooden abutments.

Several other upgrades and restoration projects have been undertaken over the years, including new decking, replacement of wooden trusses, using an old Bailey truss bridge to replace the internal structure (hidden behind pine panels), and re-shingling of the roof.

Until 1960, this was the only bridge across the Grand River in the area. A new concrete bridge was built about 3/4 of a mile to the north-east, along the new Waterloo Regional Road 86. The Township of Woolich and the Ontario Department of Highways decided to preserve the covered bridge, which still sees light traffic today.

On 28 August 1960, a historical plaque was unveiled at the south end of the bridge, with one of the original workmen, John Geisel, performing the honour.

The bridge is commonly referred to as “The Kissing Bridge,” due to the enclosure and soft lighting providing a romantic atmosphere.

West Montrose

The unincorporated community of West Montrose was settled around 1850, on land purchased by the German Company back around 1807 by Daniel Erb, David Eby and Christian Stauffer.

Early settlers were mainly Mennonites from Pennsylvania, the so-called “Pennsylvania Dutch,” named such not because they immigrated from the Netherlands, but due to a misnomer for Deitsch or Deutsch (German).

Many were likely attracted to the area by its already established German population, also settling in nearby St Jacobs and Berlin (re-named Kitchener in 1916).

A few Scots also immigrated to the area around the same time, including Andrew L. Anderson from Montrose, Scotland, naming the village Montrose in honour of his home town. The word “West” was added around 1865, as there was a Montrose in Welland County, near Niagara Falls.

Today, West Montrose/Woolwich Township is still a home to a large Old Order Mennonite community. While still predominantly rural, small housing developments and a trailer park campground have sprung up in the area.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Montrose,_Ontario, Top 150 Unusual Things To See In Ontario, by Ron Brown, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Montrose_Covered_Bridge, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Order_Mennonite, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Dutch, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covered_bridge, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitchener,_Ontario, https://www.woolwich.ca/en/living-here/Communities-and-Landmarks.aspx.

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/the-west-montrose-covered-bridge-ontarios-last-remaining-covered-bridge/

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