5 years ago, the Nipigon Bridge partially collapsed, cutting Canada in two

Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey, who already led the municipality in 2016, remembers the great speculation that there was in the community directly after the subsidence.

Several people wondered how it could have happened, people put forward several hypotheses, […] but we now have several reports that indicated exactly what happened, he notes.

Loosely tightened bolts that were supposed to hold the bridge deck in place gave way, causing an elevation of about two feet. Traffic was partially restored about 18 hours later.

The Nipigon Bridge, which is part of the Trans-Canada Highway, provides the link between highways 11 and 17 connecting the country from east to west. The subsidence therefore caused a headache for truckers transporting goods.

People couldn’t believe that this bridge was the only way to cross Canada. There were several media calling me who really wanted to get clarification because they couldn’t get over it.

Richard Harvey, Mayor of Nipigon

Concrete blocks installed to lower the structure of the Nipigon Bridge in order to restore traffic.

Photo: Martine Laberge

But despite the great media attention, five years later, the sagging rarely the subject of conversations between people in the community, according to Mayor Harvey.

I even mentioned, Friday, to some of my city councilors that it was going to be five years this weekend since the incident of the bridge occurred. And they all looked at me, looking surprised. It’s not something that people really talk about.

Richard Harvey, Mayor of Nipigon

But the event has certainly benefited the municipality of Nipigon, underlines the mayor, because he brought the world’s attention to this spectacular infrastructure that was being built.

The Nipigon River Bridge.

A view of the steel cables that are part of the structure of the Nipigon River Bridge.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Caroline Bourdua

The Nipigon cable-stayed bridge was the first of its kind to be built in Ontario and was part of a $ 106 million project that included widening the highway to four lanes. It had been opened to traffic in November, just months before it partially collapsed.

There are people who thought this was a point worth seeing in person and we certainly took advantage of it, adds Mayor Harvey. The municipality has also chosen to build a belvedere to allow tourists to admire the bridge and the surrounding regions.

There are even people who, at the start, would only have crossed our region and who decide to stop and discover what we have here.

Richard Harvey, Mayor of Nipigon

In 2020, the Nipigon bridge was recognized as one of the most beautiful in North America by the magazine Roads & Bridges.

A bridge, seen from the road used by motorists.

The Nipigon Bridge

Photo: Radio-Canada / Pierre-Mathieu Tremblay

Entrepreneur Daniel Howells, originally from Thunder Bay, decided to move to Nipigon in 2015 to open a café there to serve the many builders who worked there.

We thought they were going to be hungry, he laughs.

The funny thing about the bridge sagging is that for many businesses in Nipigon, it was the biggest month of January for tourism for a long time. It was positive for the companies.

Daniel Howells, owner of La Luna café in Nipigon
Belvedere in Nipigon.

A belvedere allows you to admire the Nipigon Bridge and the surrounding areas.

Photo: Suzanne Rooster

Before the health crisis, he even noticed several Americans drawn to Nipigon by the bridge and hope tourism will resume after travel restrictions are lifted.

But now we have a lot of people coming from Thunder Bay, especially with COVID-19, who want to get out of town and see the bridge and come to the restaurant, come to Thunder Bay to shop and go home., he concludes.

The importance of infrastructure security

Mayor Richard Harvey believes the 2016 incident also contributed to better awareness on the safety of road infrastructures in the rest of Canada.

In our community, everyone was aware of the need for solid infrastructure. This is part of what the new bridge was built for. But for the rest of Canada, I think it wasn’t necessarily something that was well understood, he concludes.

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