Soaring above the Oldman River and the Indian Battle Park in Lethbridge, the high-level railway bridge looms over the landscape. The city, local businesses and the Canadian Pacific Railway collaborated on a massive project to light the bridge in September 2009 to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The CPR bridge is the longest and highest trestle bridge in the world reaching 5,327.625 feet (1.6km) in length and 314 feet in height
The 1909 completion of this bridge was designated by the Canadian federal government in 2005 as a "National Historic Event"
Travelocity has dubbed this a "must see" attraction.
The original construction was completed in 1909
The railway was a critical component of the settlement and development of Canada, and particularly for Western Canada. Vast distances had to be traveled across the open prairies. At first travel was only by horseback and Red River cart. Then the railways opened up much faster, safer transportation for settlers, trade goods and raw materials.
The discovery of coal in the river valley forged a new townsite. Coalbanks started as a small mining community in the River bottom, and after several floods was later moved up to the top of the coulees and ultimately became the thriving city of Lethbridge.
Coal was a very important industry for the area. Initially coal was transported by barges navigating the Belly River (now called the "Oldman River") The railway was key to providing efficient shipping of the coal safely year-round.
However as the rail lines expanded, there were still numerous difficulties to deal with. The geography posed significant barriers. While one often thinks of the prairies as completely flat expanses, the glaciers (and subsequently the rivers) carved deep winding paths across the flat prairie. Known locally as "Coulees", these river crossings required numerous, and expensive bridges to be built. These were initially constructed of wood, and required ongoing maintenance and repair as they aged. The rail line to Fort Macleod also had many twisting curves which also put limitations and mechanical strain on the rolling stock.
To alleviate these issues it was determined that a large bridge through the river valley at Coalbanks (now Lethbridge) could create a more direct and stronger connection to the East and the Western slopes.
Planning began in the late 1890's. Engineers worked several years and special equipment was designed and brought in. Construction began in August of 1908. Engineers and Construction crews faced many challenges including a flood in 1908. But the new line with this viaduct across the Belly River, eliminated the need for 20 wooden bridges that had been previously used. It cost an incredible $1,334,525.00 to build, and was at the time dubbed "one of the wonders of the world."
2009 marked the centennial of the completion of this venerable structure; celebrations commemorated this modern marvel of engineering, and on September 5th the city partied! The Allied Arts Council staged a day-long event in Indian battle Park, "In the Shadow of the Bridge." Del Allen of D.A. Electric was the one responsible for the mammoth project to light the bridge. An enormous task in itself, it reflected the time and efforts that went into the original construction 100 years earlier.
In 2009 Mr. Del Allen and D.A. Electric received the Spirit of Lethbridge Award during Small Business Week in October. In no small fashion his vision and efforts to light the bridge were recognized as he continues to strive to have the bridge lit on special occasions, with the cooperation of CP Rail.
The lighting of the bridge gives our city and visitors one more way to experience the bridge. The lights were also turned on for Remembrance Day 2009, and a Piper from the Royal Canadian Legion, General Stewart Branch played the Bagpipe atop a lookout tower perched high above the river valley. A chilling experience it was, as the sound of the pipes filled the frosty night air just after the sun set. The stars began twinkling in the indigo skies above, and the lights gave an eerie glow above the bridge.
2009 also saw the CPR "Christmas Train " visit our city on its bi-annual visit. The owners (CPR) and Del Allen again made special arrangements to have the festively lit train stop in the middle of the bridge, on an even colder frosty night (minus 14 degrees Celsius!).
The bridge will be lit again for Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Canada Day (July1st.) Other special celebration dates are to be negotiated with the owners of the bridge, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
Indian Battle Park is also home to Fort Whoop-up, recently declared a National historic Site.