YOU ASKED: Can you tell us more about the former bridge beside the Overlander Bridge? What was its name, when was it built, when was the last time the bridge was used and how many lanes did the bridge have? What was the routing like for the former bridge? I see the footings are still there. I was wondering if anybody had any pictures of the old bridge. Secondly, why have the footings never been removed?
— Nelson Neves
OUR ANSWER: This was a fun question to work on because Kamloops has a fascinating history when it comes to bridges, much of which is documented in splendid detail in the community archives.
Actually, it took mere seconds to uncover two interesting articles at Kamloops Museum's Mary Balf Archives., with the help of museum manager Elisabeth Duckworth, of course.
Kamloops, it seems, has long had an issue with transportation challenges. In the 1800s, before the city's first bridge was constructed, members of the T'kemlups Indian Band shuttled people across the river by canoe. That led to the construction of the original Red Bridge in 1887. (The current Red Bridge is the third incarnation.)
But that crossing only solved the transportation problems for settlers living on the east side of the community. Ranchers and farmers who made their living on the northwest side of the river — in Westsyde, Tranquille and Brocklehurst — had bigger challenges.
Their choices were to cross the frozen river in winter or make a lengthy detour along the north side of Kamloops Lake to catch a ferry at Savona.
There were rudimentary ferry systems operated throughout the mid-to-late 1800s in Kamloops as well, but they were either unreliable or so inadequate that residents started lobbying for a dedicated bridge crossing connecting North Kamloops and the South Shore's West End.
An 1891 editorial in the Inland Sentinel summarized the feelings of the day. "… the cost of the bridge would not be much while the convenience that such a structure would afford would be the means of opening up the country and developing its natural resources."
The provincial government agreed. In 1894, government engineers Keefer and Smith arrived in town and drew plans for a wooden truss bridge to span 900 feet (274 metres). In the end, their $44,000 design was deemed too expensive — and so the bridge idea was shelved.
North Kamloops ferry service continued near the site of the current Overlanders Bridge.
So did the travel woes of residents, ranchers and farmers.
Finally, in 1901, Bain Bros. of New Westminster won a contract to build what was colloquially called the West End or White Bridge, later the Fruitlands Bridge.
And, boy oh boy, did that bridge open up the North Shore.
New development sprouted all over the fertile farming region, the biggest of which was the Canadian Real Properties Company colony known as Fruitlands. (That's a fascinating history in itself).
By 1923, though, the wooden bridge had fallen into disrepair and was condemned.
Work began on a new, steel bridge a stone's throw to the east. This was the old North Kamloops Bridge of which the concrete piers still exist.
Piles were shipped in from Shuswap Lake and driven deep into the river bottom. Then those huge concrete piers were put in place.
Dominion Bridge built the steel structure with girders that were shipped by rail. It was slow, tedious and dangerous work — two workers fell to their deaths in the fall of 1924 while fastening rivets.
The $238,000 project was finally finished in 1925. Government officials and local dignitaries attended the opening ceremony. This included members of the local Automobile Association.
May Queen Kathleen New and her maids of honour cut the ribbon and the first cars made their way across, one lane for each direction.
It's unclear exactly where the bridge landed on the South Shore but we know where it landed on the North Shore — exactly the spot where the North Shore Business Improvement Association's office is at 115 Tranquille Rd. The association's historic Wilson House was relocated to the site after the bridge was replaced by the $3-million, four-lane Overlanders Bridge in 1961.
After the Overlanders opened, the old North Kamloops Bridge was dismantled and its steel shipped away, never to be seen again. The same, of course, can't be said for those massive concrete piers.
You'll notice that the pier closest to the North Shore is jagged on top. That's because the City brought in a rock-crusher at one point and began munching away at the pier, but work was quickly stopped by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, due to the threat to fish habitat.
The question of what to do with the piers has remained unsolved.
There was some talk about 12 years ago of hiring artists to carve the concrete into sculptures — perhaps into fish or bears. There was also talk of building a pedestrian bridge across the piers.
Still, the piers sit untouched.UPDATE 1: Longtime Kamloops resident Al Proux says the steel superstructure of the old bridge didn't entirely disappear. Two panels were sent to Clearwater when the bridge was dismantled so they could become part of a bridge in that community. UPDATE 2: Please give 1LoneWolf's comments a read below. Vital additional information provided within.