West Montrose – Residents who live near the historic Covered Bridge in West Montrose are concerned about a major structural upgrade to the historic site that they say is more focused on steel than the original wooden trusses.
“We’d like to see a more timber-centric restoration,” said Kitson Morden, president of the West Montrose Residents’ Association.
Morden said residents would prefer not to add steel, but rather to restore the wood “so that it performs as designed.” He added that wood is less expensive and better for the environment.
“I feel like with the steel we’re moving more toward the Disney bridge. It looks like a covered bridge and looks like it was built in 1881 but it’s mostly a modern bridge with wood over it.”
The famous bridge, known as the Kissing Bridge, was built in 1881 from wood. It is the only remaining historic covered bridge in Ontario.
It draws visitors to its covered stretch that crosses the Great River in the town of Woolwich. It is used in promotional literature for towns and helps in attracting tourism to the area. It was also a unique backdrop for the blockbuster movie “It”.
In 1944, steel bailey trusses were installed and hidden under wood. The bridge’s $4 million restoration and rehabilitation by Waterloo District is set to replace the existing steel trusses with custom-designed concealed steel girders.
Residents agree that the bridge must be repaired. They also want the particular bridge of culture and heritage to be practical and used.
“It’s too loose and shouldn’t. It needs a fix and I don’t think any of us feel it should be left as is,” said Morden, who has lived near the bridge for six years. Others have lived in the area’s residents’ association since 35 to 50 years old.
“We are all invested in preserving it,” he said. “She’s doing the right fix.”
Michelle Pinto, a district engineer working on the bridge project, said after public consultations that the district is looking at two options for repair.
The first involves removing Bailey’s steel struts and replacing them with new, custom-designed concealed steel beams. The interior white trim will be replaced.
The second option (Alternative B) involves strengthening the existing wooden trusses by reinforcing high-strength fibers. The height of the bridge will increase by about 30 cm and the internal cladding will be removed.
Pinto said the second alternative, which focuses on wood, was preferred during public consultations.
She said the next step would be to have a wood expert assess the existing wood to determine the condition of the wood.
“They will assess how much reinforcement is required under variant B and the timber that needs reinforcement to keep up with the design code,” she said.
Morden would like to see a survey of the entire bridge, and if “the whole bridge is a mess, maybe we should do the steel. I don’t know. I’m not an engineer.”
But if the survey shows that “most of them are still in really good condition, maybe we can get a more historically healthy restoration with more wood and not a lot of reinforcement.”
He would like to see the pockets of rotten wood removed rather than replace the entire wood structure. The group sent a letter to the district’s planning committee, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday.
Morden said the association is also concerned that both options are proposing to replace the exterior cladding — the red shingle on the outside — rather than just repairing those that need replacing.
“Our case is to remove the historical material,” he said.
Morden said he would like to see parts of the timber replaced and preserved strength so that it remains a working bridge.
“This isn’t just a bridge repair. It’s not. You’re working on a historic structure, so it should be sensitive to the historic label.”
“We don’t want to see it being too reinforced. It just doesn’t need it and it adds more weight,” he said. “Slapping on a steel platform will only increase the deterioration.”
Pinto said the district is working closely with residents to make sure their views on timber are part of the reform plans.
will submit a detailed recommendation to the Board by the end of the year; Work is scheduled to begin in 2024.
The project is funded by a Federal Infrastructure Grant.