CANSO – There was a collective gasp in the Canso area late afternoon on Tuesday, July 7 as Tittle Bridge, running over The Tickle from Durrell’s Island to the mainland, collapsed under the heavy load of a tractor trailer hauling a crane.
The bridge, the age of which is undetermined but likely near 100 years or older, as it is similar to the bridge that formerly crossed the Milford Haven River between Guysborough and Boylston which was constructed in 1902, had been slated for replacement. In fact, the heavy machinery being transported over the bridge last Tuesday was part of the current construction effort for a new bridge.
The collapse of the bridge was caught on video at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. The driver of the truck was taken to the local hospital but was released shortly thereafter with no major injuries.
Shawn Andrews, director of Fire, Emergency, and IT Services for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough told the Guysborough Journal in an email that on the day of the accident, “The Fire Department went to each household and collected their contact info and explained what was going on. There is a fire (department) member on the island side with a boat that is available to transfer folks if the need arises, in an emergency situation.
“The reality is, the majority of residents have access to their own boats for travel back and forth, so they are pretty self-sufficient. Further to that, the contractor has also placed a boat in the water for use of the residents.
“Plans are in place if there is a medical emergency and power, communications, and water services are not affected. Planning is underway at the contractor and TIR levels to restore vehicle traffic services as soon as they can.”
Pat Rhynold, a life-long resident of Durrell’s Island who works on the mainland, spoke to The Journal on Wednesday after getting a boat ride to work with her husband. “It was around 4:30 p.m. I was at work and my husband was helping a friend put in a dock near the bridge…They were preparing the approaches for the new bridge and they were trying to transport that crane across so they could work on the other side, the island side,” she said of the accident.
Like most people familiar with the area, Rhynold said the travel-worthiness of the bridge was always a concern. “If we saw a truck, for example, going across with a load of wood, we certainly wouldn’t get on the bridge. If the school bus was on the bridge, we wouldn’t follow closely. Or a truck delivering fuel for the boats or the homes was on the bridge, we wouldn’t follow closely. You’d take a precaution because the bridge has been there a long time and it wasn’t a new bridge when it was put there. It was moved there from Cape Breton.”
News of the bridge collapse travelled quickly throughout the area. The local councillor quickly reached out to island residents, of which there are approximately 30, said Rhynold. “Our municipal councillor Fin Armsworthy called right after supper to check in and make sure everything was ok, to let us know that the fire department was on standby where the bridge was. And he would be keeping us posted and letting us know as he found out information. He was right on it.”
Rhynold said the accident could have been much worse especially if it had happened during high tide. “We were very fortunate that this happened at low tide because the water is deep under that bridge and there is quite a current so it could have been much more serious for that individual.”
Despite being cut off from the mainland, Rhynold didn’t feel isolated once she got back home. “When we were children,” she said, “we always rowed across in a boat or walked across the ice in the winter. We didn’t go around the bridge as often, except to go to school on the bus. So, it was quite familiar to everybody who grew up there to row a boat and to row to work. If it was someone who hadn’t grown up there, I think they would have felt very isolated.”
And while everyone agreed the bridge needed to be replaced, they’ll also miss it. “The bridge has been a significant landmark in the village,” said Rhynold, “a lot of graduation photos and wedding photos were taken on that bridge…The year that it was originally slated to be replaced, our family—the children and grandchildren -- came home and we had t-shirts made up with a picture of the bridge on it. It’s iconic for people who grew up there.”
It has been speculated that the load on the bridge at the time of the accident was over capacity, resulting in the collapse of the structure. Marla MacInnis, a media relations advisor for the Department of Transportation Infrastructure Renewal told The Journal in an email communication that, “The maximum permissible weight was 41,500 kgs,” for the bridge to Durrell’s Island.
“The bridge,” MacInnis wrote on Friday, July 10, “was scheduled to be replaced this summer. The replacement schedule would have seen the new bridge built before the old one was removed. The incident occurred when contractors were moving equipment on the site.
“Ensuring that residents are supported during this time is our main priority. Staff are working hard on a plan to re-establish permanent access to the island. A temporary causeway should be complete next week,” stated MacInnis.
Carley Sampson, communications advisor at Department of Labour and Advanced Education replied to an email request for information on the investigation into the accident: “I can confirm we are inspecting the bridge collapse in Guysborough County. We are unable to share further details at this time.”
Canso / Hazel Hill Fire Chief Tom Kavanaugh told The Journal via email Tuesday that a temporary causeway to the island had been constructed and was passable for emergencies late Saturday, July 11. With the addition of cement Jersey Barriers on either side, the causeway link to the mainland was open to all traffic as of late Monday, July 13.
Alva Construction, the contractor on the bridge project, had no comment when The Journal contacted their office in Antigonish.
Local MLA and Minister of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Lloyd Hines has not made himself available for comment by press time despite repeated requests from this newspaper.