In nineteen hundred and five petitioners came,
To the Council Chambers with a claim,
For a bridge to cross the River Thames,
On the Fullarton Boundary Line.
So begins the poem, “The Night They Named Trafalgar Bridge,” by Thomas E. Hammond, a county councillor of the day. He and his fellow councillors knew their history — the bridge, completed in 1905 a few miles upstream of St. Marys, took its name from the Battle of Trafalgar of a century before, when Lord Nelson led the British navy to triumph over its Napoleonic adversaries.
Today the bridge is a rare example of its kind. In the late 19th century, steel bridges began replacing earlier wood and stone bridges. Steel structures, with prefabricated parts, could be assembled quickly, were very strong and, thanks to their characteristic truss design, could cross long spans without piers.
Like the 1898 Water Street Bridge in St. Marys, Trafalgar Bridge is a one-lane single-span (but, at 132 feet, it is considerably longer). The manufacturer of both was the Stratford Bridge Company located on Erie Street. Once common in the rural landscape, almost all of these bridges have disappeared, replaced by re-inforced concrete structures.
Built by the County of Perth, Trafalgar Bridge sits at the juncture of three old townships (Blanshard, Fullarton, Downie) and is currently the joint responsibility of the Townships of Perth South and West Perth. Repaired from time to time, the bridge has proven surprisingly resistent to threats of its demise. But, now in its 110th year, it requires further work. The two townships have just begun an environmental assessment process, to include public consultation, to determine the future of the bridge.
The photograph, taken a century or so ago, shows the bridge from the south with a likely fisherman at the river’s edge. The view today is similarly pastoral, with a sheep meadow to the south and a more verdant backdrop to the north. The only apparent change to the bridge itself is bigger, uglier guardrails.
With its width and load limitations, the bridge cannot handle larger vehicles and the traffic count is not high. But this encourages its use for more recreational pursuits — walking, biking, snowmobiling, fishing, and as a lookout with splendid views up and down the river. An outstanding example of our bridge heritage, Trafalgar Bridge survives today as a special place.
(Guest columnist Dan Schneider is a professional heritage consultant who lives near Trafalgar Bridge. Mary Smith will return next week.)