Interview with Lincoln McCardle and the Successful Rehabilitation of the Blackfriars Bridge in London, Canada

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LONDON, ONTARIO (CANADA)- Almost four months after the reopening of the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world, located in Canada, the Blackfriars Bowstring Arch Bridge is starting to receive some well-deserved accolades for the work that was done for the bridge. As mentioned earlier, the 1875 product of the Wrought Iron Bridge Company finished second in the Ammann Awards in the categories of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Bridge of the Year, good enough for silver medals. It won the Author’s Choice Award for the former mentioned category. And just recently, on 21st February, the bridge won the ACO London Conservation and Reuse Award, presented by the City of London.  Here’s a photo of the presentation of the bridge upon receiving the award:

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The photos were taken by one of the people who contributed to saving the bridge, Lincoln McCardle. Like many residents in London, Lincoln has close ties and memories of the bridge, as he hung out with friends and the like at the bridge while growing up. His mother, Judi, has even more of an attachment to the bridge to a point where she has had a house located in the “visual vicinity” of the bridge (and judging by the article, her house does have a great view with the bridge.) She has even painted pictures of the bridge and has collected some works on it!!!

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Judi McCardle talking about the bridge at the ACO Awards Ceremony in London

It’s pretty difficult to say who were spearheading the efforts to saving the bridge, even though the two are two of the bridge’s biggest fans. However, there was a time when the decision between rehabilitating and replacing the bridge was that difficult to make. But when the decision was made to do the rehab, it was well worth the work. I had a chance to interview Lincoln via e-mail about the Blackfriars Bridge. Like the author of the Chronicles, he was in charge of the social network scene, devoting his time to bringing the Blackfriars Bridge to the attention of the people in London and beyond.  Thanks to that alone, it garnered a lot of attention and support, which made the decision to rehabilitate the bowstring arch bridge much easier than without. To give you an idea, here is a youtube clip of him as an overture to the interview conducted with the Chronicles.  Check out the finished product at the end of the interview and feel free to comment. Have fun watching the film and reading the interview. 🙂

 

1. The bowstring arch bridge had been closed to all traffic from 2013 until the project. What factors led to the decision to restore the bridge?

The decision to restore was actually very much in doubt for some time. While deemed the more expensive in the Environmental Study Report, it was decided that rehabilitation was the preferred option. I believe that key factors that went into this decision were: importance as a significant heritage structure, role within the parks and pathway system as well as transportation network and perhaps most importantly it’s value to the community. In short, people love it!

2. Who were the key players in the project to restore the bridge?

Most notably the city of London itself. As well as provincial and federal government funding. Much of the prlimanry work was done by Dillon Consulting and the actual construction and rehabilitation work was done by McLean Taylor Construction Limited. Of course, there were many community and heritage activists whom without this project may never have taken place.

3. Describe in phases how the bridge was restored, beginning with the dissembly and ending with the reopening?

The procedure to carefully lift the bridge was been developed with safety as a priority. The steps were as follows:

  • Remove non-structural items to reduce weight lifted.
  • Prepared temporary steel framing and cables to provide an apparatus for
  • the lift.
  • Set up two cranes for the lift, one on each side of the river. Two additional
  • cranes set up for worker access.
  • Lift bridge off the abutments and lower it down to an area above the river for improved worker access, while continuing to support it from the cranes at all times.
  • Cut bridge at the mid-span with torches while supported by the cranes.
  • Lift each half of the bridge to the nearest side of the river.
  • Dismantle and inventory the bridge for delivery off site for rehabilitation.

After nine months of the off-site repair and rehabilitation, the bridge was returned back in place across the Thames River on August 15, 2018.

4. Where was all the work done?

The bridge was actually transported to St. Mary’s, Ontario where the work was done. (About a 45 minute drive away from the site.) it was decided that bridge removal and off-site rehabilitation provides benefits including a longer life expectancy and improved worker and public safety. Off-site rehabilitation within a large indoor space created a safer worksite, ensure better quality control, reduce the need for environmental protection measures and take advantage of the winter months to complete much of the work. It also allowed for hot riveting to mimic the workmanship of 1875.

5. Why was the bowstring cut into half before being flown? Why not use the truck or two helicopters at the same time for carrying the bridge?

Two large cranes were required simply to lift the bridge – including one that is amongst the largest in North America. The bridge itself is 216 feet (65.8 meters) and is the longest working span of that kind in North America – it was determined that cutting it in half was the only possible way to transport it.

6. What difficulties did you have in restoring the bridge?

While I wasn’t involved myself, it’s pretty common knowledge that the major obstacle was the condition of the bridge. The project team had to constantly measure their desire to keep as much of the original bridge as possible while satisfying safety codes. This piece of the original structure that was gifted to me will give you an idea of what they were up against:

bridge piece

The rehabilitation process involved an ongoing assessment of the condition of the individual bridge parts with a combination of reuse, upgrades and the fabrication of replicas. Much of the wrought-iron members were in good enough condition to reuse. For example, the pedestrian railing and lattice that exists in several locations on the bridge were reused with local upgrades where corrosion is severe and bridge design requirements dictate. The bowstring arch was also reused and upgraded where its condition required.

 

7. Some historians and bridge preservation claimed that restoring the bridge is not considered restoration but more like a replacement because of new materials that were used to replace the old plus some of the extra components added to the bridge which compromises the historical value of the bridge. What is your opinion on that?

I reluctantly see their point. While I’m confident that every effort was made to restore as much of the original structure as possible there were clearly beyond repair and severely corroded. These needed to be replaced with new similar looking parts to increase the longevity of the bridge. While all original parts would have been ideal and had simply been neglected to long and at this point I’m happy to have the original bridge back – or at least a as much as possible the 1875 design of it.

 

8. Was the bridge listed on any Canadian national registry prior to restoration? Did it maintain its status when it was reopened in November?

Yes and yes. Blackfriars Bridge is a heritage-designated property under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act on April 21, 1992 and is included on the Ontario Heritage Bridge List, a list of provincially significant bridge structures. In 2016, Blackfriars Bridge was recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. In addition, it is included on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

 

9. Up until this interview, has this bridge received any accolades or at least a nomination for its restoration?

Yes, in fact I’m attending a gala tonight as it was nominated for an ACO London 2019 London Heritage Award. (https://acolondon.ca/news/2019/1/28/announcing-the-2019-london-heritage-award-nominees) As well, it has been nominated as one of the Great Places in Canada many times over the years. (http://greatplacesincanada.ca/) Perhaps most telling however is the number of times it has figured in various artistic works, visual and literary. The bridge is loved and cherished by many.

 

10. The Paper Mill Bridge in Delaware has won the Ammann Awards in two categories: Bridge of the Year and Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, narrowing beating you in a voting marathon. In both categories you got second place, meaning a silver medal. In addition, you guys won the Author’s Choice Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge. Congratulations on both! What is the reaction have you guys been receiving?

It’s been really special to have a bridge that means so much to me appreciated by others. The truth is my personal goal was simply to raise awareness of the bridge – so to have it even nominated was far beyond my initial expectations. And to then win the Author’s Choice Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge is a dream come true. It really is a local heritage gem and to have it recognized outside of our corner of the world really validates what I’ve felt all along – we are blessed to have such a historic span. The bridge has supported Londoners for 145 years and its well-deserved that it gets some support in return!

 

11. We have some examples of bowstring arch bridges that have been sitting abandoned and waiting for restoration and repurposing. Among them include a bowstring arch bridge in Flensburg, Indiana, Livermore Falls Bridge in New Hampshire and the Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge in Mankato, Minnesota, the latter still holds the title of being the longest historic bridge in the US and second longest in the world behind you. What advice would you give to the groups interested in restoring the structure and bring it back to life for recreational purposes?

It sounds cliché but team work makes the dream work. I honestly believe that this restoration would have taken place without a lot of people reminding their friends and neighbours that not only did this bridge exist but that it was special and deserved to be saved. The lower cost of simply replacing it with a new structure was tempting to local government but heritage is a non-renewable resource. Given the obstacles faced by this project, I would suggest that the best time to start such a campaign is 25-years ago, with today being the next best option.

Blackfriars Bridge is one of the oldest and rarest bridges in Canada and an irreplaceable landmark in the Blackfriars/Petersville neighbourhood,” says Mayor Matt Brown. “This structure contributes to the character of our community. Preserving London’s built heritage matters and seeing the structure returned, looking just like it did in 1875, really brings our City’s history to life.”

And the finished product! 🙂

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Many thanks to Lincoln for the interview and the photos.

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