Historic St. Marys by Mary Smith
The destruction of the Park Street Bridge over the Thames River during the 1947 spring flood is a famous St. Marys event. Battered by high water and floating ice, two of the three spans of the steel truss bridge gave way in the early morning of April 6 and were swept downstream. The loss of this bridge was a blow to the municipality’s infrastructure just as the town was trying to regain equilibrium in the uncertain years after the Second World War. How could the community afford to replace it when many other issues demanded attention, such as adequate housing, fundraising for a new hospital and a new arena!
With the loss of the Park Street Bridge, West Ward residents were greatly inconvenienced. Not everyone owned cars and many West Warders walked to work at industries such as Richardson’s foundry, Maxwell’s and the cement plant. The Park Street Bridge had also provided a direct route for West Ward children who went to Central School and for families who attended the churches in the South Ward.
In 1948, Helen Wilson, a West Ward resident, was the first woman to be elected to St. Marys Town Council. She had run on the bridge issue and, although it was still considered too costly to rebuild, early in 1950 a footbridge, suspended by steel cables, was erected across the Thames at Park Street. Wilson was the first person to cross it. (In 1963-64, she became the first woman to serve as mayor of St. Marys.) The footbridge was meant to be temporary but almost a quarter century passed before a full-sized bridge again crossed the Thames at Park Street. A modern, reinforced-concrete bridge was officially opened in 1971.
Until then, the footbridge was well-used. It was a true swinging bridge, the plank walkway suspended by cables. As unsuspecting visitors from other parts of town discovered, it not only swung but also bounced violently if someone stood near one end and jumped up and down — terrifying novice users caught part way across.
The swinging bridge is well-remembered but good photographs of this local legend are scarce. To the delight of staff and volunteers at the St. Marys Museum, several have been found among the Frances Dale collection, including this 1950 photograph. It shows how the suspended footbridge replaced the two lost spans of the steel bridge. At the west end, the footbridge connected to the third section of the former bridge that survived the flood.