CSCE Edmonton

Edmonton Section

Aurora Edmonton


High Level Bridge

High Level Bridge image courtesy of Travis Hnidan

Description of Historic Site
Edmonton’s High Level Bridge is a massive structure and a significant landmark for the City of Edmonton and Civil Engineering alike. It is a steel truss bridge featuring 28 individual spans that sit 49 metres above the North Saskatchewan River atop concrete piers and steel legs. The bridge carries pedestrian, vehicular and rail traffic 755 metres across the entire river valley, linking the downtown core with Old Strathcona via 109th Street.

Construction and History
Construction of the High Level Bridge commenced in 1910 as per the designs created by Phillips B. Motley, an employee of Canadian Pacific Railway. The bridge was completed over three years by John B. Gunn and Sons and immediately served as an important link to the community of Strathcona, newly amalgamated with the City of Edmonton in 1912.

The bridge supported four different modes of transportation across the North Saskatchewan: automobile, train, streetcar, and pedestrian; however streetcar traffic ceased operation in 1951 and train use, in 1989. A tourist streetcar now runs seasonally on the upper deck while automobile and pedestrian traffic continue on the lower deck.

Historical Significance
The construction of the High Level Bridge highlights the importance of the railway in the area’s development as the $2 million cost was shared between the City of Strathcona, the City of Edmonton, Canadian Pacific Railway, the province of Alberta and the Canadian government. Furthermore, it was a factor in aiding in the amalgamation between the City of Edmonton and the City of Strathcona as transportation of people and goods between the two cities was increased.

The High Level Bridge is one of the four great steel truss bridges constructed by Canadian Pacific before the Second World War and its incorporation of automobile, rail, and pedestrian traffic was original in Western Canada for its time.

It’s design and materials remain in tact over these years and serve as an icon for the City of Edmonton. It is recognized by the City as a historic resource.

One of the rivet hammers used during the construction process of the High Level Bridge has become part of the Edmonton-area Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer.

Defining Features
Characteristic features of the High Level Bridge include:
- three, 88 m long and seven, 29 m long Pratt Truss spans
- six, 14 m long tower spans
- two, 40 m long Warren Truss spans
- four concrete piers set in river bed
- original bridge superstructure
- two, 12 m wide decks, separated vertically by 20 m
- all black steel paint finish

1 City of Edmonton
2 Edmonton Radial Railway
3 transtutors.com
4 Wikipedia: High Level Bridge
Article researched and compiled by Travis Hnidan, CSCE Edmonton History Committee 2011/12

Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railway

Description of Historic Site
Remnants of the Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railway (EY&PR) – opened in 1902 – serve to not only support existing infrastructure in Edmonton but harken railway development in the area that contributed to the City’s growth. Originally constructed from Strathcona to Rossdale flats, and later extended to the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) yards at 121 Street, the EY&PR has left: its grade and timber trestles for trail construction in Mill Creek Ravine Park; its train bed for pathway paving above Victoria Park and Golf Course; and the ubiquitous Low Level Bridge which now carries traffic across the North Saskatchewan River.

Construction and History
In response to construction of the Calgary & Edmonton Railway (C&ER) stopping south of the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton businessmen, led by Sir William Mackenzie and Sir Donald Mann, lobbied the federal government for funds to construct a bridge to replace the seasonally dependent cable ferry system across the river. In March of 1898, pier construction began for the Low Level Bridge and, after amending the design for flood waters which submerged the piers by over one metre, the charter for the EY&PR was acquired. 

The Low Level Bridge was completed in 1900 and the line connecting the C&ER to the station at the bottom of McDougall Hill was finished for the first train crossing in 1902. By 1905 the line was extended to the CNoR and a spur extension to Stony Plains was opened two years later. This spur was originally intended to reach the Yukon and the Pacific Ocean but after the amalgamation with CNoR in 1910, the EY&PR ceased to exist. The main line did eventually pass through St. Albert on its way to Vancouver.

Historical Significance
The formation of the EY&PR was motivated by the need to create a transportation link between two economic and political rivals: Edmonton and Strathcona. The C&ER ended in Strathcona partly due to the prohibitive cost of building a bridge to Edmonton but also due to a desire to foster a community on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River to replace the one on the north: Edmonton. The EY&PR served as the first rail link between Edmonton and Strathcona and helped to ensure Edmonton’s industrial development and economic survival. The railway further stands to represent the determination of community members to direct the growth of their city, something which still resonates with Edmontonians today.

Both the Mill Creek Trestle Bridge and the Low Level Bridge are recognized by the City of Edmonton as historic resources.

Defining Features
Characteristic features of the Mill Creek Trestle Bridge include:
-linear bed supported by cross-braced vertical supports
-original trestle wood features including: the vertical supports, angled braces, stringers, and ties.
-location over Mill Creek in a wooded, steep-sloped ravine

Characteristic features of the Low Level Bridge include:
-four steel Pratt Bridge Trusses along its span
-three concrete piers set in riverbed
-second deck constructed later to accommodate vehicle traffic

Characteristic features of the Pathway System:
-graded slope in Mill Creek Ravine with original rail bed overlain with pavement
-graded slope cut into bank of river valley above Victoria Golf Course, similarly paved

1 City of Edmonton
2 University of Alberta – Atlas of Alberta Railways
3 CSCE National History Committee
4 Wikipedia: Canadian Northern Pacific Railway
Article researched and compiled by Travis Hnidan, CSCE Edmonton History Committee 2011/12