Luckily the river was not very deep and no loss of life or injuries happened. Sadly this was not the first aging bridge to fall into the water below and likely won’t be the last. Bridges, like everything else, can only last so long and no matter how much upkeep they get, sooner or later they will need to be upgraded and replaced.
Many of our smaller bridges were made during the horse and buggy days. The only motor traffic they saw, when built, was the occasional Model T Ford chugging along over them at 25 miles per hour.
Perhaps the most famous bridge that collapsed was the one that singer, Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote and sang about.
This was the “Ironworkers Memorial Bridge” of British Columbia that connected Vancouver to the north shore of Burrard Inlet. The bridge collapsed in June of 1958. A working crane stretched out to connect parts of the unfinished arch, caused several spans to collapse. Tragically 19 men lost their lives and the Canadian singer paid a musical tribute to the fallen workers with a song: “The Bridge Came Tumbling Down.”
Much closer to home, the Tusket River Bridge, after days of heavy rain in November 2010, fell into the river. Although there had been traffic on the bridge moments before, fortunately it was empty at the time of collapse. The reason this one had collapsed was because the cement bunker holding one end of the bridge became undermined by the excessive force of the current and moved from its moorings, releasing the aging bridge.
The Meteghan River Bridge is the one that still send shivers up my spine when I think about it because I was the second car there just moments after it fell. It was an August day and I was driving my mother to visit her son, my brother Jean, who was, and still is, a resident at “La Maison au Coucher du Soleil” a home of special care in Saulnierville. We arrived at noon, drove over the Meteghan River Bridge without giving it a second thought, never dreaming that in a few hours it would be gone. We took Jean for a ride up Digby Neck way, biding our time while taking in the scenery. It was a pleasant drive and we stopped at the Irving Big Stop in Digby for our supper and then drove to Saulnierville to let Jean off at his place of residence.
On the way home as we neared the Meteghan River Bridge I could see something that looked like a couch in the middle of the road. Suddenly a young woman appeared out of nowhere and flagged us down. It was Alisa Aymar who lived in the region. The front wheels of her car had gone over the fallen bridge stopping just in time. The bridge had collapsed moments before.
Immediately we started flagging down oncoming traffic from both sides of the fallen bridge. Soon others arrived and we kept things under control until the authorities took over with road blocks, flashing lights and yellow tape.
I have often wondered if I would have stopped in time had I been the first car?
That I will never know.
What had caused the bridge to fall on a fine weather August day? A transport truck had just gone over the bridge minutes before the collapse. Did the truck dislodge something as it left the bridge?
The bridge had been inspected earlier. Was it winter freezing or springtime flooding that had weakened the structure holding up the bridge? Nobody knew, but these were the educated guesses that government officials gave. It could have been a combination of all those things.
The bridge was replaced with a new one some time later.
Meanwhile I will always be grateful to Alisa Aymar for flagging us down…and perhaps saving our lives.
Laurent d'Entremont lives in West Pubnico and contributes history columns to the Tri-County Vanguard.