Old Skeena Bridge, Terrace BC

Description

The Old Skeena Bridge, as it is locally known, is situated in northwestern British Columbia spanning the Skeena River between the city of Terrace and the community of Thornhill. It is approximately 650 metres northwest of the junction of Highways 16 and 37 and approximately 1.5 km upstream of the newer two lane Dudley Little, Skeena River Bridge.

This statement of significance will address the Old Skeena Bridge as well as the ramps which lead onto the bridge on either side. The Old Skeena Bridge spans approximately 300 metres across the Skeena River and the ramps leading onto the bridge are both approximately 50 metres in length. This historic site also includes the rock outcropping immediately below the western entrance to the bridge and the larger rock outcropping below the eastern end of the bridge. This larger rock outcropping stretches downstream approximately 100 metres from the bridge and approximately 200 metres from the shore.

The Old Skeena Bridge was constructed using two different types of truss systems; a through truss and a deck truss. The through truss is the portion of the bridge where the trussing is suspended above the bridge deck and the deck truss is the portion of the bridge where the trussing is suspended below the bridge deck. The Old Skeena Bridge is currently constructed of metal beams, concrete abutments and piers and an open grated steel deck.

Heritage Values

The Old Skeena Bridge replaced a bridge and ferry service that was located downstream a short distance at what is now called “Ferry Island”. This ferry service was susceptible to the changing water levels and could only carry a limited number of people and a certain size of vehicle. The building of the Skeena Bridge allowed community members of Terrace and other settlements in the region to move more freely and safely across the Skeena River.

The Old Skeena Bridge has significant heritage value because it is an important part of the historic development of transportation infrastructure within the region. The coming of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway during the first decade of the 20th century spurred a period of transportation infrastructure development that would support the growing economy and increasing population. The railway brought people and new development to the area, creating a need for better established transportation systems. During the 1920’s there were rough roads and bridges being developed which served to connect settlements such as Thornhill, Usk, Lakelse Lake, Remo and the Kitsumkalum Valley. The roads built by early settlers heading east and west of Terrace were eventually finished as highways in 1944 by army personnel deployed to the region during World War II. Bridges like the Old Skeena Bridge were integral parts of this transportation infrastructure development.

The Old Skeena Bridge was opened to the public in 1925 but a major reconstruction and renovation of this bridge occurred in 1953 which altered the location and look of the bridge significantly. This reconstruction occurred due to the building of the railway bridge for the Kitimat-Terrace CN railway expansion. The railway bridge is adjacent to the highway bridge on the downstream, or south facing, side of the bridge. Although this reconstruction used some of the old bridge spans it included the creation of many new spans and concrete piers. As well, this reconstruction included changing the entry and exit ramps and laying a new hardwood deck. The rock outcropping below the eastern entrance to the bridge was significantly altered at this time to allow for better access to the site. The reconstruction of the Old Skeena Bridge, made necessary by the expansion of the Kitimat-Terrace CN Rail line, is important to the heritage value of this historic site as it redefined and updated the structure’s construction, location and appearance.

In 2001 the wooden deck that was laid during this reconstruction was replaced by a grated steel deck due to highway maintenance costs. The past use of this wood deck adds to the heritage value of the Skeena Bridge because for 48 years it was defined as the longest, one lane, wood decked, curved bridge in North America.

The Old Skeena Bridge also has heritage value because it contributed to the social and cultural development of the region. With freer and safer movement of people throughout the landscape relationships were built, ideas were more readily shared and economic opportunities were created.

Historical value can be assigned to the adjacent rock outcroppings at the bridge site because of the current and historic use of the site. Continuing the transportation theme, the rock outcroppings under the bridge that form Little Canyon was a formidable obstacle to sternwheeler riverboats on the Skeena River prior to the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. These ringbolts anchored in the rocks were used to help the riverboats through the canyon on their upstream journey. Ringbolts are still visible in the rock outcrop at the west end of the bridge. Currently and historically the rock outcroppings were also used as a food, social and ceremonial fishing site by First Nations people.

In addition, the Old Skeena Bridge is used as a gathering site for a local celebration on the British Columbia Day long weekend in August. This annual community celebration facilitated in Terrace is called Riverboat Days and commemorates local history and builds community pride. The bridge site is used as a gathering spot for the fireworks celebration and is attended by thousands of local community members and visitors.

Character Defining Elements

The Character‐Defining Elements of the Old Skeena Bridge include:

  • the physical relationship the Old Skeena Bridge has to the Kitimat‐Terrace railway bridge
  • the appearance as a one lane curved bridge
  • the current bridge structure including the concrete piers and steel trusses
  • the old original bridge piers under the current bridge
  • the plaque commemorating the bridge’s 75th anniversary attached to a truss on the west end of
    the bridge
  • the use of the bridge as a transportation route across the Skeena River
  • the use of the bridge and surrounding site as a community gathering place for celebration
  • the rock outcropping under and adjacent to the bridge
  • Riverboat Ringbolts on the west end rock outcroppings
  • natural features used by the First Nations for fishing
Photos: 
Old Skeena Bridge 1940s
Old Skeena Bridge during 1936 flood
Old Skeena Bridge reconstruction 1950s
Old Skeena Bridge reconstruction 1950s
Old Skeena Bridge reconstruction 1950s
Old Skeena Bridge 2009
Old Skeena Bridge 2009
Old Skeena Bridge Plaque
Sternwheeler ringbolt anchors under bridge
Old Skeena Bridge Terrace 2008
Skeena Bridge Fall Colours 2008
Old Skeena Bridge at Night