Blackfriars Street in London, Ontario reopened to traffic after five-year closure and one year extensive restoration work.
LONDON, ONTARIO (CANADA)- At 225 feet (68.6 meters), it is the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. It was one of the longest ever built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio At 143 years of age, it is one of the oldest historic bridges of its kind left in Canada and North America. It is one of the rarest bridges to find in the country because of its dwindling numbers. And now, after five years including one year of a complete restoration, the Blackfriars Street Bridge in London, Ontario is back in business.
Thousands convened to the bridge on December 1st to commemorate the reopening of this unique bowstring arch bridge, located at Blackfriars Street, spanning the North Branch of the Thames River connecting Blackfriars Park on the west bank and Harris Park on the east bank. This included a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a parade of cars that crossed the newly restored structure. The cost for the complete restoration was $8.6 million, which was split between local and federal funding. For many residents and bridge enthusiasts, it is a relief to have the structure back in service while at the same time, retain its historic and cultural integrity. Many have had great childhood memories of the bridge and were happy to see the bridge open to traffic. From its build date of 1875 until its closure in 2013, the bridge served vehicular traffic before structural deterioration forced its restriction of the bridge to solely pedestrian cyclists in 2013. In November 2017, the bridge was lifted off its place, cut in half, then dismantled to be transported to an offsite complex where it was sandblasted and welded, with several parts being replaced.
This bridge restoration was met with hefty criticism, especially from bridge preservationists who dubbed the Blackfriars Street Bridge Restoration as a complete replacement. In a statement posted by Nathan Holth in the historicbridges.org homepage, “A 2018 rehabilitation project essentially replaced nearly every surviving piece of original material on this bridge with new material that looks completely different than the original design.” Holth added that “this may be due to a lack of sufficient consultation with experts in bridge restoration, or a lack of open minds on the part of engineers who may have consulted with experts in bridge restoration.” And while the website acknowledged that rehabilitation was needed, this type of work was more of a modernization of the bridge than in-kind restoration, stating “with an in-kind restoration, many parts of the bridge would still have been replaced, but they would have been replaced with replicas of the original design. The bridge’s bowstring trusses today are almost unrecognizable.”
While his claim is that with the complete replacement of bridge parts with new materials is as bad a bridge replacement, one needs to look at the difference between the Blackfriar’s Street Bridge before and the structure after the replacement to see the difference. It is clear that the portal bracings and the upper chord are different; the portals veered away from its three-tiered Lattice and X-frame portal bracings with heel bracings and was replaced with simply the X-frame with heels, whereas the original beams with Phoenix columns have been replaced with rectangular beams, much of the vertical and diagonal beams appear to be the same. One needs to have a look at the bridge for himself to see the difference.
Nevertheless, inspite of the criticism, the restoration of the bridge and its reopening of the crossing will provide drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike with an opportunity to gain access to the university complex on the western bank of the Thames from the greenery area on the east side, where the two branches form the Thames. But most importantly, the City of London got back their beloved historic bridge, one of only a handful of historic landmarks left for the city, but one of the most important that a person should see when passing through. This is one that is not only in the running for this year’s Ammann Award in the category of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, but one on the places to visit list for many, like myself, who have yet to see the structure and judge for himself how much alteration was actually done.
The Blackfriars Street Bridge has its own Twitter website, where you can follow up on the bridge and read the stories behind the structure and the love affair the people have with the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. Click here and follow for details.