The official opening of Trail’s first bridge was May 24, 1912. (Photo courtesy the Trail Historical Society)

Trail Blazers: Honouring a stalwart structure

The Old Trail Bridge officially opened 108 years ago

Few happenings stir up sentiment in the heart of the city like the closure of the Old Trail Bridge.

Even now that the historic landmark has been decommissioned for several years and its dismantling will happen at some point – this will likely be delayed due to the city’s financial constraints caused by the pandemic – some locals still hang on to hope that by some miracle this will not be the bridge’s fate or at least it will be salvaged in some way.

Being that the structure is still standing after 108 years, and the anniversary of when it first opened is in a few days, paying homage to this revered crossing is very fitting for this week’s Trail Blazers feature.

So, let’s take readers back in time to Saturday, May 25, 1912.

The Trail newspaper was filled with stories recounting a regal affair from the day previous. That date marked the 13th year Canadians observed Queen Victoria’s birthday, but more importantly, May 24 was also the official opening of the “Smelter City’s” new bridge.

“Trail was in gala attire on Friday,” wrote W.K. Esling. “The reason for this being the opening of the new bridge and the observation of Empire Day …The huge and handsome steel structure spans the mighty waterway and weds the eastern and western sections of the Columbia River valley, with its large areas of fertile land.”

Most on the minds of celebrants Esling notes, was the large gathering of people from outlying areas, all of whom were welcomed to the city with pomp, including a procession of horse and carriage and the patriotic music of the Trail band.

A splendid arch bearing the words “Welcome to our city,” and strings of flags spanned the principle street, he wrote, while nearly all of the stores and buildings were decorated with bunting.

“Trail’s latchstring was on the outside, and every visitor was made to feel at home, as there was no skimping of the hospitality – it was openhanded and generous.”

Under the sub-heading “Bridge Will Last For A Long Time,” Mr. Morrison, a bridge contractor from Vancouver, is quoted, saying the day was, “a consummation most devoutly wished for,” and “a good index of the civilization of a people was found in their highways and bridges.”

Later in the day, MLA “Sunny Jim” Schofield addressed the crowd following his wife’s cutting of the ribbon.

“He warmly thanked the visitors for their presence, and said that the Rossland contingent (noted to be more than 600 people) was a particularly large one and that he was not surprised, as Rossland and Trail were old and tried friends.”

Once Schofield declared the bridge open, and “silken barriers” removed, provincial MP L.A. Campbell was honoured to drive the first set of wheels across, because “the auto is owned by him and contained several of his friends.”

The crowd then walked across the Columbia River for the first time and celebrated with a day of sports in the recreation park (now Butler Park).

Empire Day was observed on the school day preceding the May 24 holiday for Queen Victoria’s birthday, said to be “the most important patriotic rite for children in English-speaking Canada during the first half century.” In 1952, the day was moved to the Monday before May 25 and thereafter named Victoria Day.

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