Original limestone saved as historic Guelph rail bridge gets major refit

The Speed River Bridge has withstood the test of time. Over the course of nine weekends, crews will be working around the clock to give new life to this historic traverse whose foundation was built the same year as pasteurization was introduced to the world.

Guelph’s Speed River Bridge – a crossing that’s older than Canada – is getting a new lease on a lofty life.

Those who travel into Guelph’s downtown core during weekends this fall will notice a bustling construction site filled with equipment and contractors.

Over the coming weekends all seven main spans of the bridge – each weighing in at 200,000 lbs – will be replaced, extending the life of the structure and allowing for future GO Transit rail expansion.

Crews watch as a section of bridge is moved in.
Seen here, crews working around the clock, performing essential maintenance work to upgrade the structural capacity of the aging Speed River Bridge to allow for future rail expansion. (Jacob Patterson Photo)

The new bridge will rest upon the original limestone abutments and pier which date to 1856 – the same year Sigmund Freud was born

The foundation was constructed by the Grand Trunk Railway, a major railroad that connected Toronto to Montreal. By 1859, it stretched as far west as Sarnia and as far east as Portland, Maine.

By 1869, some considered it the largest railway in the world.

“It’s incredible to see it’s still in solid shape after 160 years of service and cleared for another 50 to100 years of service,” says Jacob Patterson, a local archivist for the Guelph Historical Railway Association.

Patterson was there to document the bridge rehabilitation work when it first began earlier this month and was glad to see it underway.

“It’s great that GO Transit is expanding into the area and it’s great to see the limestone from many years ago is still being preserved and added into the current design.”

According to Patterson, the current transverse parts of the bridge were installed after the Second World War by the Canadian Bridge Company of Walkerville, Ontario. The bridge itself is also affectionately called Allan’s Bridge by locals, named after an old mill nearby.

“It’s great to see community members come around from nearby to watch the rebuild,” Patterson explains. “This is a main thoroughfare in Guelph, and everyone recognizes this bridge, it’s been there almost as long as the city.”

The work will require various full road closures between Elizabeth and Wellington streets, including Macdonell Street, and will happen during weekend overnights to ensure there is no impact on GO schedules along with VIA Rail and CN trains.

The remaining construction will take place throughout weekends in October, and Metrolinx is reminding residents to exercise caution in all areas under construction by following the direction of signage and flag persons.

Click here to learn more about the improvements along the Kitchener GO Line.

And if you want more information on the Guelph Historical Railway Association, just click here.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Bilingual Spokesperson, Media Relations and Issues Specialist