Old Skeena Bridge then and now. (Heritage Museum/Submitted photo)

Old Skeena Bridge: A staple of Terrace scenery

The Old Skeena Bridge still serves as a powerful symbol of the region’s strength and resilience

By Hannah Link

The Old Skeena Bridge has served as a regional icon and picturesque backdrop for generations. Its latest closure due to repairs poses an excellent time to reflect on the histories of such a staple part of Terrace scenery.

Prior to its construction in 1925, the main viable source of transportation from Thornhill to Terrace was via small car ferry. The boat would take passengers from Thornhill Creek to Ferry Island where a wooden one-lane bridge was available for them to use to arrive in Terrace. This method was subject to changing water levels, and was not ideal for all travellers with large vehicles, as there were limited spots on each ship. The Victoria Times in 1916 reported that Terrace residents were already fed up with the restrictive access to their community, petitioning the government to build a bridge for more than ten years before one was built. Finally, on July 11th, 1925, the Old Skeena Bridge was completed. It was officially opened by Minister of Lands T.D. Patullo, who would later become premier.

The Old Skeena Bridge saw an impressive upgrade in 1953. A regional population increase meant that there was more traffic, and the promise of a new aluminium smelter in Kitimat only heightened the need for a more robust bridge. The Aluminium Company of Canada (Alcan) also needed a rail line to transport goods to and from its smelter.

Canadian National (CN) Rail was set to expand its line to include a Kitimat-Terrace run and an addition onto the existing Old Skeena Bridge was deemed the best option. The B.C. government contributed funds for the renovation, which included a new onramp and bridge exit, a hardwood deck and cement pillars to support the existing bridge and new rail track.

Nearly 50 years after its first renovation, the Old Skeena Bridge was again revamped to accommodate more traffic. In 2001, the wooden bridge deck was replaced with grated steel to lower maintenance costs. The Weekend Advertiser newspaper reported that the bridge would be open to traffic for an hour and a half in the morning and for three hours in the evening from Aug. 13 2001 to mid October of that year. This closure excluded statutory holidays and Sundays, during which there would be no traffic restrictions. This ended its era as the longest wooden curved bridge in North America.

Many Terrace locals have fond memories of the Old Skeena Bridge as a fun destination in their youth. In her oral history interview from 2013, Julia Little describes going on group dates to the bridge. “We’d walk to the Skeena Bridge. Some of the boys climbed to the top.”

Mary Harris and Norma Morrison both remember walking to the structure on Sundays to take pictures. It served as a gathering place for youth, and a spot for people to take in the beauty of our region.

The Old Skeena Bridge is once again under construction. It will be closed until mid to late 2023 for general repairs, including improved pedestrian space and structural reinforcement.

Though the iconic structure is temporarily closed The Old Skeena Bridge still serves as a powerful symbol of the region’s strength and resilience. With its new improvements the bridge can continue to welcome people in and out of Terrace for years to come.

Hannah Link is museum programmer at the Heritage Park Museum in Terrace

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