There’s nothing more local than the neighbourhood bridge

By Douglas Cornish

Ruminations on the weight of a neighbourhood bridge.
The humble bridge that used to span the creek at the end of Blasdell Ave. has been replaced with something a bit more substantive. Workers transported the bridge along a gravel road off Aviation Pkwy. to reach its final destination. Photo: Doug Cornish

A favourite golden oldie pop song is Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water. The melody builds softly, slowly, eventually reaching a magnificent crescendo, not unlike Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.
Bridges are important. Build bridges not walls, as they say. They’re connectors, allowing people access to new vistas. Bridges are metaphorical. The word is used to express many human concepts. It’s in medicine, in law, in poetry. There are famous bridges: the London, the Brooklyn, Golden Gate, Lions Gate, the Tallahatchie (Ode to Billie Joe song by Bobbie Gentry), etc.
Everything important is local. There’s nothing more vital and local than a small neighborhood bridge; it’s wrapped up in neighbourhood history.
Manor Park isn’t known for bridges (other than ones they don’t want).
This isn’t Madison County (the Clint Eastwood / Meryl Streep film!), but there is a local significant footbridge in Manor Park East, at the end of Blasdell Ave., off St Laurent Blvd. It’s where Blasdell ends, unceremoniously, at a fence and a bushy area. The single homes on the north side of Blasdell and the townhouses on the south side suddenly peter out; there’s nothing left but a little fence and a small hill leading down to water, then up a hill to an expansive pastoral setting.
This is what the locals called the Blasdell Bridge, or the little wooden bridge at the end of Blasdell.
Many probably never even knew its existence unless you lived nearby. Neighborhoods are like that, they can be so local, even within the neighborhood.

A pleasant release

The Blasdell Bridge had its 15 minutes of fame last year, when it ceased to be. It’s human nature that you don’t miss something until it’s gone. When there was no longer a bridge, people quickly took notice.
After many bridge-less months and a few diplomatic neighborhood chattering complaints, the National Capital Commission (NCC) stepped in. There are connected people in the area. The former councillor of the riding is presently the chair of the NCC. There was a lot of protesting noise, city hall councillor door-knocking, email campaign-writing, even Manor Park Chronicle-mentioning. Eventually, things happened. The squeaky wheel usually gets the grease.
The original wooden bridge was constructed by a local neighbour (who has since moved to Perth, Ontario) and it provided a much-needed outlet for people to temporarily leave the neighborhood and unwind in the peaceful natural landscape just beyond Blasdell. The bridge also became a life-saving link for dog-walkers, and for parents with small children who explored the various pathways leading into untouched (as much as possible) nature with vibrant bird and small animal life. The RCMP horses, in season, are nearby. It’s a pleasant release from the business of everyday life.
The original bridge, inevitably, ran its life course, became rickety, and deteriorating with holes. It became an unsafe liability. The NCC removed the bridge, put up a fence, no-entry signs, and strategically placed small red construction warning cones.
People don’t always take kindly to change. So well-meaning, normal, law-abiding citizens ended up taking down the fence and throwing logs and branches over the water for a makeshift bridge, but that didn’t work. It only ended up aggravating the authorities. The winter actually came to the rescue (in typical Canadian fashion) because the water froze, and snow piled up, allowing some dedicated dog walkers to temporarily cross.

Restoring a pastoral connection

In the end, everything works out (and if it doesn’t, then it’s not the end, as they say!), so at great expense, and with a temporary stone road wide enough for large trucks (the road which will eventually be turned back to nature) workers began in early June to build a long-lasting bridge, using the Aviation Parkway end for access for hauling materials and vehicles. The project had an original six to eight-week schedule, and anyone following it saw a big production. The Aviation Parkway and Aviation pathway were impacted, and the entire area was fenced in with a blue opaque covering on the fence to discourage onlookers. One might have thought this was a light rail project! A lot of hoopla for a little bridge.
Whether or not it had political overtones, who knows, but the important part is that local residents will have their bridge back – a long-lasting one. The NCC named it, The Blasdell Pedestrian Bridge. The public has been asked to submit their own. Whether there will be an official christening ceremony, who knows? Champagne smashing? That’s for ships! Perhaps a quiet opening.
Nonetheless, this is a Simon and Garfunkel bridge. Momentarily, it might become a tourist attraction for curiosity-seekers but will return to its origin: a trustworthy little bridge over a part of the neighbourhood that was troubled and found it hard to cope without this link, this connection to a necessary pastoral escape from everyday existence.