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Effort underway to have East Coulee wooden bridge declared historical site

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Efforts are underway in East Coulee to have one of the last wooden truss bridges in Canada declared a historical site.

The trestle bridge in East Coulee was first built in 1936, but had to be rebuilt after three quarters of it was destroyed by flooding and ice in 1948.

A group led by John Graham is spearheading an effort to have it declared an historic site.

"It's a 'Howe truss' style and that was first patented in 1840 and the last of those bridges went out of vogue in the 1880s and 1890s so it's a miracle that (its still here)," he said. "We've had some engineers look at it, it can be restored, we're hoping to get an inspection to get dollars as to what that will cost, and we're hoping that the restoration will be similar to the cost of demolition."

The bridge has a historic connection to the Atlas No. 3 Coal Mine National Historic Site, which was closed in the mid-1970s. The bridge linked the main rail lines across the Red Deer River, and was used by trains delivering coal to communities across Western Canada.

"The mines were located on the north side of the river," said Graham. "Then they found that the seams of coal were twice as thick on the south side so then they closed most of the mines on the north side, move them across the river, and that necessitated the bridge to be built to haul the coal away."

'ITS A NATIONAL TREASURE'

Tony Miglecz is the president of the East Coulee community association and says a fence went up at each end to keep people from crossing it at the end of the 1980s.

"Some people look at it and see it's a wreck and other people go it's a national treasure," he said. "So just like everywhere else, it's all in how you see it."

But Miglecz says many in the community support the restoration project and see benefits to having the bridge resorted.

"Cycling is becoming big in the valley and if we had some way to cycle from out here at the Atlas mine all the way to Nacmine, yeah, it would be another plus for our community," said Miglecz.

The bridge has since fallen into disrepair. Rob Gale is a local railroad historian and says the structure is unique because it is a four spanned wooden Howe truss and not many were built.

"This bridge has so much importance to the valley and the history," said Gale. "If this bridge were to go, the Atlas coal mines story would be incomplete and there would be a hole literally in East Coulee."

COSTS

Costs for the bridges maintenance are being shared by CN and CPKCS Rail which, along with the cost of assuming insurance liability, has prevented the Atlas Coal Mine Historical Society and the East Coulee community from taking over ownership.

"Kudos to CP rail, because they've been very patient with us and we've now stepped up our game," said Graham. "Hopefully within the next few months, we'll have a game plan, we'll have some engineer reports to backup what it will cost to restore and we'll be able to negotiate with CP Rail for the outcome that we hope."

Graham says the community is meeting in late November to find volunteers to form the East Coulee Truss Bridge Preservation Society and then try to seek historical designation for the bridge.

"If it's going to cost millions and millions of dollars to restore, nobody's got millions and millions of dollars," said Graham. "But if we can get engineering reports to hopefully state that it's going to be a similar cost to demolition, then I think the community would be interested."

The only other Howe truss bridge still standing in Canada can be found in Ontario, and it already has 'protected' status.

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