Old Skeena Bridge
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Old Skeena Bridge, as it is locally known, is a combined automobile and railway bridge that spans the Skeena River between the City of Terrace and the community of Thornhill in northwestern British Columbia. It is located approximately 650 metres northwest of the junction of Highways 16 and 37 and approximately 1.5 km upstream from the newer (Dudley Little) Skeena River Bridge.
This historic place includes the 300 metre long bridge, the two 50 metre long approach ramps, a rock outcropping with embedded ringbolts located immediately below the western entrance to the bridge and a larger rock outcropping located below the eastern end of the bridge. This larger rock outcropping stretches downstream approximately 100 metres from the bridge and approximately 200 metres from the shore.
The Old Skeena Bridge has significant heritage value for its role in the historic development of transportation infrastructure within the region. The coming of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway during the first decade of the 20th century brought people and new development to the area, creating a need for better transportation systems. The Old Skeena Bridge and other bridges were an integral part of this transportation infrastructure development. During the 1920's, rough roads and bridges were developed to connect settlements such as Thornhill, Usk, Lakelse Lake, Remo and the Kitsumkalum Valley. The roads built by early settlers heading east and west of Terrace were eventually finished as highways in 1944 by army personnel deployed to the region during World War II. The Old Skeena Bridge, opened to the public in 1925, replaced a bridge and ferry service located downstream at what is now called 'Ferry Island.' This ferry service was susceptible to changing water levels and could only carry a limited number of people and a certain size of vehicle.
The Old Skeena Bridge also has heritage value because it contributed to the social and cultural development of the region. The building of the Old Skeena Bridge allowed community members of Terrace and other settlements in the region to move more freely and safely across the Skeena River. With freer and safer movement of people throughout the landscape, relationships were built, ideas were more readily shared and economic opportunities were created.
The Old Skeena Bridge is also valued for its physical form and engineering. It is constructed of metal beams with concrete abutments and piers and an open grated steel deck, and includes both through truss and deck truss construction. A major reconstruction and renovation of the Old Skeena Bridge in 1953 altered its original construction, location and appearance significantly. The reconstruction occurred due to the building of the railway bridge for the Kitimat-Terrace Canadian National Railway expansion. The railway bridge is located adjacent to the highway bridge on the downstream (south facing) side. The rock outcropping below the eastern entrance to the bridge was significantly altered at this time to allow for better access to the site. Although the reconstruction used some of the old bridge spans, many new spans and concrete piers were added. As well, this reconstruction included changing the entry and exit ramps and laying a new hardwood deck. For 48 years, the Old Skeena Bridge was known as the longest one lane, wood decked, curved bridge in North America. In 2001, due to highway maintenance costs, the wooden deck design used since the 1953 reconstruction was replaced by a grated steel deck.
The adjacent rock outcroppings at the bridge site have historical and social value because of the historic and current use of this place. Prior to the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the rock outcroppings under the bridge that form Little Canyon were a formidable obstacle to sternwheeler riverboats on the Skeena River. Ringbolts, anchored in the rocks, were used to help the riverboats through the canyon on their upstream journey. These ringbolts are still visible in the rock outcrop at the west end of the bridge. Today, the Old Skeena Bridge is used as a gathering site for a local celebration, called 'Riverboat Days', held on the British Columbia Day long weekend in August. This annual community celebration, facilitated in Terrace, commemorates local history and builds community pride. From the bridge site local community members and visitors view the fireworks celebrations. In addition, the rock outcroppings on which the bridge stands are also valued and continue to be used as a traditional food, social and ceremonial fishing site for local First Nations people.
Source: Kitimat-Stikine Regional District Planning Department
Key character-defining elements of the Old Skeena Bridge include:
- the physical relationship between the Old Skeena Bridge and the Kitimat-Terrace railway bridge
- its appearance as a one-lane curved bridge
- the current bridge structure, including the concrete piers and steel trusses
- the old original bridge piers located under the current bridge
- the plaque commemorating the bridge's 75th anniversary, attached to a truss on the west end of the bridge
- rock outcroppings under and adjacent to the bridge
- ringbolts located on the rock outcroppings at the west end of the bridge
- the use of the bridge as a transportation route across the Skeena River
- the use of the bridge and surrounding site as a community gathering place for local celebrations
- traditional and current use of the rock outcroppings as a food, social and ceremonial fishing site by First Nations
- natural features used by First Nations for fishing
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Technology and Engineering
- Developing Economies
- Communications and Transportation
Function - Category and Type
- Bridge, Tunnel or Other Engineering Work
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Kitimat-Stikine Regional District Planning Department
Cross-Reference to Collection