Description of Historic Place
The Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge is remotely located high above the waterline and at a significant bend in the Wallace River, 2 kilometres upstream from the Route 6 highway in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. The bridge structure is composed of massive sandstone foundation piers, iron spanning elements, a massive gear and recently replaced decking in wood. The bridge is now surrounded by dense forest and is now part of the Trans Canada Trail. Both the structure and property are included in the designation.
The Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge is considered significant for its rare structural design and components, as a remnant of intense industrial activity in late nineteenth century Nova Scotia, and as a dramatic landmark, particularly given its remote, natural setting.
In response to plans by John A. MacDonald’s government for rail lines to run the entire length of the Dominion of Canada, the Nova Scotia Government Rail Line was constructed in northern Nova Scotia between Truro and Pictou in 1883. Subsequently, a connection from Pictou to the Inter Colonial Railway (ICR) at Oxford Junction was built by the Great American and European Short Line Railway. This was acquired by the ICR on completion.
Adjacent to the bridge and upstream were extensive sandstone quarries and shipping piers. While quarries in the Wallace area date to the first decade of the nineteenth century, by the time this bridge was constructed most had been taken over by a New York syndicate, and sandstone was exported to building markets in Boston, New York and further inland. To facilitate passage of ships from Wallace Harbour to the loading docks at the quarry, the railway bridge incorporated a swing portion, pivoting on one of the sandstone piers. Few other examples of bridges with swing portions remain in Nova Scotia, and none of them are original or as well preserved as that at Wallace River. Evidence of quarry workings and wharf piles can also still be found.
The architecture of the bridge has two types of components: spanning elements and foundation elements. The former consists of three deck plate girders, all at the western end of the span; a through truss and a fixed swing span. The swing span is no longer operational and the decking has been replaced to facilitate the use of the bridge as a walking trail. Though the original manufacturer’s plate is no longer in place, the iron components were reportedly from the Dominion Bridge Company of Montreal.
The foundation consists of six distinct structures. There are rectangular sandstone abutments at either end of the span and a third round sandstone abutment at the eastern end which supports the swing span. Two more rectangular sandstone piers support the through truss at mid-span. The western end contains an iron trestle on the western riverbank. The footing of the most easterly rectangular pier incorporates a wedge shape component on the upstream side, probably as protection from ice floes.
The bridge is located 2 kilometres inland from the Northumberland Strait, at a significant bend in the Wallace River. Best appreciated from a boat in mid-river, the bridge presents a dramatic image as one rounds this bend. The relative remoteness of the structure belies the activity which the area once witnessed, with working quarries and related commercial traffic on the river. Presently, the Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge is part of a walking trail maintained by the Cumberland Trails Association and also part of the Trans Canada Trail. It is now home to a large nesting osprey population, and a popular place on the trail to rest and admire the view and surrounding forest.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-Defining Elements of the Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge include:
Character-defining elements of the Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge include
- all spanning elements, including the three deck plate girders, the through truss, and the intact cog wheel and crank allowing a fixed swing span;
- all foundation elements, including the sandstone abutments at either end of the span, the western end iron trestle, the three sandstone piers and their footings;
- its remote location and dramatic, massive presence in the context of the surrounding forest.