Landmarks- Bridges, Form and Function


Marquis de Lorne Bridge, Crossing The Bow River along Stoney Trail, looking North. Photo by Trevor Brown,

It’s not a stretch to think of The Deep South as an island. Hacked off from the rest of the city by the Bow River to the east and Fish Creek Park to the north, provincially-regulated land, there will always be a sense of isolation to the area. I think area residents have always relished this to some extent, though for various reasons we’ve also needed to connect to the rest of the city and province. Naturally, the most basic way to do this is with a bridge. After reading enough about pioneer families in the area who had to “ford” the rivers, being at the whim of the seasons and the water levels, you realize how lucky we are to have a bridge. And unlike a real island like PEI, where the Confederation Bridge linking it to the mainland was controversial for over a century, over time there have been a large number and variety of bridges built in Deep South Calgary: assorted passenger bridges across the Fish Creek as well as the Bow River, and of course, the Marquis de Lorne Bridge connecting the Deep South and South East along Stoney Trail, and the 37th Street Bridge crossing Fish Creek in the West, infamously one-lane into the late 1990s. But I think the most interesting are the various crossings of Fish Creek near Macleod Trail.

cprailbridgeCanadian Pacific Railway Bridge crossing Fish Creek, looking west

The Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge is the most historic of these, having been built in 1907; The City of Calgary’s Inventory of Historic Resources provides a pretty extensive overview of the bridge’s history and notability, focusing on how it connected Calgary to the rest of the province, and was a symbol of the city’s growing power and influence, however with no mention made of the well-settled Midnapore area that it connected to. The bridge is still in use by trains, but there is more to its story than that.
macleodtrailbridgeBridge crossing Fish Creek along Macleod Trail, looking east. This is the third such bridge along the road; Macleod originally crossed further west, just beside the rail bridge. A second 4-lane bridge was built in the 1950s to the east, and the current 6-lane bridge was built just east of the previous bridge in 1979. City council deemed the expansion of Macleod Trail, and subsequently this bridge, as a necessary condition in order for the subdivision of Midnapore to be fully developed.

To cross the Fish Creek Valley, you have a few options: drive across either the bridge along Macleod Trail or the bridge way out at 37 st SW, or go along the train line via CP Rail, or Calgary Transit. The 1974 Midnapore Policy Report mentions that there was another bridge discussed that would have connected 14 St SW across Fish Creek to its southern counterpart, (14 st south of Fish Creek ultimately became north-south James McKevitt Road). However this bridge was scuttled by the mid-1970s citing the need to preserve the upcoming Fish Creek Provincial Park, and projections showing that it would only support at best 13,000 more residents in the Deep South, likely fewer as there was still more development due north of Fish Creek that would make the road inherently more congested north of the park.

Anyways, What all of this means is that when cars or trains are not available, you are forced to either walk one of these bridges, or trek through Fish Creek Park, ill-advised and actually illegal at night. A lot of people choose the former, and it’s almost a rite of passage to eventually do this, especially when you’re a teenager who needs to make it in or out of Midnapore or Shawnessy in the middle of the night, with no cash, car or running C-Train. And due to Macleod Trail having no sidewalks south of Anderson, most stranded people seem to choose the rail bridge. It’s also easier to access, a faster crossing, and has way less traffic; you just hope not to experience a Stand By Me moment. Regardless, it’s also illegal to use the bridge as a pedestrian, dangerous, and a pain in the ass. It shows a real gap in planning, and is yet another example of how The Deep South is still disconnected from the rest of the city.

“It is a landmark due to its distinctive appearance and its prominence over Fish Creek and along the pathway in Fish Creek Provincial Park, a popular regional park; it is also seen from Macleod Trail, one of the principal roads in the city. (Landmark value: City-wide significance)”- The City of Calgary, Inventory of Historic Resources for the Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge in Fish Creek

It is really striking, even with the graffiti that covers the west side of it half the time. I think for many of us, this style of bridge is exactly what we think of when we imagine a rail bridge, though its design is purely functional and of its time: numerous triangles for even strength, painted in plain matte black. I distinctly remember walking by it with an ironworker friend who was fascinated and puzzled by the bolt work, which seemed so strange and archaic a century after construction. Of course, there is really nothing special about the bridge’s design: form followed function. It’s just a nice coincidence that it looked really good. Like the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, there is also nothing particularly unique about it; there’s two lookalikes in the city in Inglewood and Bowness. But that doesn’t matter, beyond The City’s nod of recognition by placing it on their Historic Inventory list and my own personal feelings, I’ve seen enough photos from area residents of it to know that it’s one of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the area.

Immediately I compare the rail bridge over Fish Creek to the much newer one just south of it, crossing Bannister Road/Millrise Boulevard, pictured above. Kind of dignified or charming in a brutalist sort of way, but not really iconic. Still, it’s much better than the C-Train bridge just west of the Rail bridge crossing Fish Creek.

lrtbridgeLRT Bridge crossing Fish Creek, looking East. Note the LRT bridge is the grey concrete line and column in the middle, with the CP Rail bridge in the background. The LRT bridge was constructed circa 2000.

You can barely tell there is a bridge there. What’s interesting to note is that according to Stephanie White in the book Unbuilt Calgary, there was a design contest for this bridge. At least one of those submissions was more interesting, involving “two decks that carry the LRT tracks, which are supported by a single concrete-filled steel tubular arch with three sets of V-shaped struts supporting the concrete deck” (Unbuilt Calgary, pg. 83). This sounds much better, and was designed locally by Tom Martin Consultants to boot. Apparently this design was abandoned due to cost uncertainties; it used different girders than was the norm for bridges in Alberta, so a higher than average safety premium was added on top, making the design uncompetitive. I just have to think, even if the city didn’t go with the design submitted by Tom Martin , would it really have been too much to ask for a little bit of character in the final product? Looking at my photo above I feel like I rushed and messed up the shot, and pobably should have moved a little so the south part of the bridge wasn’t blocked by a tree..but I also feel like there isn’t much to show, so I’m not sure it matters.

art_macleodtrailEngraving of Canada Geese on Column of Macleod Trail Bridge over Fish Creek. There are various animals carved into the supports of the bridges in the vicinity.


art_marquisdelorneTracking the Trail by Roger Gaudreau (2007), along the columns of the Marquis de Lorne Bridge. A key element of the piece is showing the tracks of the various users and inhabitants of Fish Creek Park. Further information from The City of Calgary or at the artist’s website.

With aesthetics in mind, I can’t help but thing of Calgary’s 1% for art policy. The policy is common in cities across the world, and was seemingly introduced in Calgary to prevent our city from looking too bland, a reputation it has earned well. Personally, I’ve never really objected to the policy, though I can admit it is not perfect, with controversies ranging from the massive amount 1% of a project can add up to, local economic value, fiscal sensibility and the art itself. The two examples above are probably two of the more tasteful and sensible examples of this policy, while the infamous blue ring is probably the most controversial and egregious in recent history.

cprailbridge_2So I just think of something like the CP Rail Bridge. While not art explicitly, it is a piece of infrastructure that manages to be iconic and inspirational through little more than good design and a near perfect blend of form and function. If elegant design and artistic spirit were a bigger part of public projects, maybe there wouldn’t be such a need for art projects that frequently come across as contrived. I think there is something very broken in a society when art and creativity are an afterthought, when it is something that has to be tacked on to a project rather than making up its lifeblood, and I think everyone would be better off if these worlds were more integrated. Our surroundings and public works should inspire us, rather than leave us enraged or bored. I’m not sure if the issue is how divorced the general public is from art, or vice versa, but I think a good start for improving this would be for us to really engage with, care about and seek out the best in our surroundings. Since this is something I know I should do more too, I want to close with the Marquis de Lorne bridge, because it’s actually really nice and I’d never really trekked down to see it until I decided to write this article.

Marquis de Lorne Bridge Looking Northwest, with Sundance in the top left and downtown Calgary visible in top right. Photo by Trevor Brown,

I really don’t have much to say about the bridge. The northern twin bridge was finished about 2009, and it’s a little more pedestrian friendly than the Macleod Trail Bridge, but I’m sure people stranded in the South East have a similar problem trying to cross the Bow River as those trying to cross Fish Creek do. What I really want to say is that it just photographs damn well and the area around it, the Chinook Rotary Nature Park, part of Fish Creek, is really nice and atmospheric. Getting this article prepared meant experiencing a part of my neighbourhood I had never really appreciated before, a gentle reminder that while I do think we need to have engaging surrounding and build things with meaning and purpose, we also need to engage with the surroundings we have.

I don’t think there is a better way to end this than with this video I found of a family talking in Ukrainian (I think) while driving over the Marquis de Lorne bridge during the 2013 floods, with America’s “Horse With No Name” playing in the background.

2 thoughts on “Landmarks- Bridges, Form and Function

    1. Good catch! It has often been phrased as “de Lorne” (a quick search shows that it has been used in a variety of official and unofficial sources), but I have no idea why. Perhaps it is just that the name looks French?

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