Enduring Service of the High Level Bridge
The opening of southern Alberta to mining, ranching and farming was heavily dependent on railway transportation to get the coal, beef and grains to market. Many immigrants looking for work and a new place to live, arrived by train, bringing along their household belongings, farm implements, and a determination to succeed.
In the late 1800s, parts of the CPR line between Lethbridge and Macleod were becoming unstable so a new metal bridge over the Oldman River valley was planned. Engineer Blair Ripley, who also designed the spiral tunnel railway at Field in British Columbia, created the design.
The High Level Bridge and new track, also known as the Lethbridge Viaduct, completed in 1909, shortened the route between Macleod and Lethbridge by 5.26 miles (8.47 km) and removed an elevation gain and loss of 401.5 feet (122.4 meters). Fuel savings and reduction of stress on the train engines and cars over the next 105 years would be substantial. Noteably, the Titanic, built between 1909 and 1911, did not survive its 1912 maiden voyage. The High Level Bridge not only survived, but today safely carries 20% more weight than the original engineers planned.
Construction of the bridge involved huge quantities of steel, concrete and paint, almost 1,400,000 rivets and two years labour for 100 men. It is just over one mile (1.6 km) long and is 307’ (93.5 m) above the valley floor at its greatest height.
The bridge cost $1,334,525 to build. Early on the afternoon of June 22, 1909, the last span was put in place, and later that day a series of flatcars carrying 100 men and women dressed in their finest clothes crossed the bridge.
This bridge is a valuable part of the national rail system. CPR service vehicles are regularly seen on the bridge as employees monitor, repair and maintain the structure, tracks, and ties. In 2005, the construction of this imposing structure was recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) as a National Historic Event. “The Mighty Bridge”– a 2009 Galt exhibit – celebrated its centennial.
A remarkably detailed model of the High Level Bridge construction, built and donated by Robert Gardner between 1990 and 1994, is on display in the Discovery Hall at the Galt. For more information about current programs and exhibits, visit www.galtmuseum.com.