Cull Drain Bridge dodges full demolition

Sarnia Coun. Terry Burrell says this photo from a recent Sarnia Journal aerial edition was what helped convince him that the Cull Drain Bridge and its iconic trusses are worth an attempt at preservation. Glenn Ogilvie

George Mathewson

City councillors appeared to surprise even themselves last week by granting the condemned Cull Drain Bridge a second chance at life.

In a unanimous vote, council agreed to spend $230,000 to demolish the bridge but save its steel trusses, which will be trucked to Mike Weir Park for possible future preservation.

The derelict structure was declared at risk of collapse on Aug. 7, and could have been scrapped completely for $113,000.

But a groundswell of support from residents, architectural and conservation experts, and the city’s own heritage committee turned the tide.

“I was quite surprised myself – pleasantly so,” admitted Steve Loxton, whose citizen group Friends of the Cull Drain Bridge worked hard to save the 104-year-old span.

The group raised $3,300 in two weeks toward an historical display of the trusses in Weir Park. The ultimate goal is to return the restored bridge to its home on old Lakeshore Road, he said.

“We’ll see how the fundraising goes and take it from there. We’re not going to procrastinate on it.”

The scenic bridge was built across the mouth of the Cull Drain in 1910 to link Sarnia and Bright’s Grove. Storms washed out sections of the road, the bridge fell into disuse, and it was closed to pedestrians two years ago.

Historians and preservationists lobbied Sarnia to save the rare, locally-built truss bridge. They envision it one day becoming a focal point and rest stop on a waterfront trail opened on the old Lakeshore Road right-of-way east of the Cull Drain.

City councillors said spending the extra money to spare the trusses for potential restoration was the right thing to do.

“If we don’t value our heritage who will?” asked Coun. John McEachran. “It’s a relatively small amount.”

Heritage committee member Anne Marie Gillis said the bridge should be preserved because it was built by Sarnians for Sarnians.

Even Coun. Mike Kelch, who earlier pointed to the cleanup of Centennial Park as one of many more pressing taxpayer needs, said he was swayed by the community response.

“I’ve been impressed by the level of civic engagement,” he said.

The job of removing the bridge but salvaging the trusses was awarded to Cope Construction, which is expected to begin the work soon.