Friday, December 14, 2007

The Bridges of Victoria County

CN 149 crossing the Salmon River trestle near Grand Falls, NB
I was recently asked to provide some information on the Salmon River area, and especially the Little River trestle near the giant Salmon River trestle. I've done some digging and I'll share some random notes with you.

The Salmon River bridge
The National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) was built in the 1910s for a variety of reasons, none of which seem good from a vantage point of almost one hundred years later. Its construction was authorized as part of an agreement between the federal government and the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) on July 29, 1903 where the government would built a railway from Moncton, NB to Winnipeg, MB, while the GTP would build from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, BC. The GTP would then lease the NTR from the government for 50 years, paying 3% of construction costs per year for 43 years, after getting the first 7 years rent-free.

The problem was this. There was already a transcontinental railway - the Canadian Pacific Railway. Some people felt that the CPR needed some competition, so in a bizarre move the government authorized two additional transcontinental railways, the GTP and the Canadian Northern Railway. In the end, both of those failed and eventually became Canadian National Railways.

Back to the NTR. As was noted in the "Report of the National Transcontinental Railway Investigating Committee" in 1914, noone on the 4-person Commission appointed to oversee the NTR's contruction "had any experience or knowledge of railway building or operation" until 1911 when Major R.W. Leonard was added. The NTR was built to very high standards, including a prohibition against grades greater than 0.4% in the east, and the use of steel bridges only. It was estimated that the total cost of the NTR would be $161,300,000 in 1914 dollars. Conservatively, that's about 3 billion dollars in 2006 (source).
The Salmon River bridge under construction, 1910
OK, now back to the Salmon River trestle and its little sisters. The Salmon River trestle was built to span the Little Salmon River, and if you've ever seen the bridge you can see it is not a mighty river by any means. The bridge, however, is. Some statistics:
- completed: 1910 (see below)
- length: 3920 feet
- height: 195 feet
- cost: $815,070.87 (including sub- and superstructure)
- steel: 13,991,310 lbs. (just under 7000 tons)
- spans: 51

This is the second longest bridge of its type in Canada. The longest is in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Here is the Salmon River trestle on Google Maps, in the middle of the map.
Salmon River bridge, New Brunswick

There are three other trestles in the neighbourhood, none of which are small.
- Little River: 1242 feet
- Caton Brook: 1060 feet
- Graham Brook: 520 feet

I am trying to find out when the Little River trestle was completed. It appears to have been done by the end of 1910. Shirley E. Woods' great book Cinders and Saltwater states that "by the end of 1910 the road was finished and most of the track had been laid. On November 24, 1911, the 231-mile stretch from Moncton to Edmundston was opened for traffic."

Today the Salmon River trestle and its little sisters are on the Napadogan Subdivision of CN's eastern mainline, and sees six mainline freights and one or two locals each day. The photo below shows CN 305 crossing in August 2007.
CN 305 on the Salmon River trestle

See also:


Anonymous said...

Just saw this bridge again in September 2016. I love this bridge, in all its splendour! A train with many cars was crossing it. My mom, Alice comes from New Denmark.
We had a nice visit with her only surviving sibling, her sister Phyllis MacDonald. She will be 91 in November.
Aunt Phyllis started teaching in 1944. Her many students have told her she was their favourite teacher,
which is a great "claim to fame."

Canadian Train Geek said...

What a great story! That is a great claim to fame, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Your aunt was my grade 5 teacher and is one of my favorite teachers

JamesMc said...

I live just down the road from the trestle. I drive past it every day and never get tired of seeing it. Thanks for the great article. I really enjoyed it.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, James, glad you liked the article. I wouldn't tire of seeing it either :)

Rural (and Rustic) Revivals said...

Is "Aunt" Phyllis MacDonald the last of the children of Johannes and Ida (Rasmussen) Jensen? My husband and I bought the house these children were born in and would love to know more first-hand about it. (Have been reading Carrie Albert's book, but would love to speak with Phyllis if she's the right one? We would love to see photos of the place as it was when it was just a one-room log cabin, and if Phyllis is up to it, talk to her in person! ? )
Please email Julie at

Unknown said...

Canadian Train Geek said...

Nice drone video, Mario!

JamesMc said...

Great video! Thanks for sharing it.

Tobiquer said...

As far as I know, during World War II sentries were posted at each end of this trestle bridge 24/7, as all the supplies for the Canadians overseas traveled via rail to Halifax and by ship to Europe.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi Tobiquer, it wouldn't surprise me at all! I know sentries were posted at other railway bridges, especially in WW1 after that German spy tried to blow up the St. Croix River bridge in New Brunswick.