Many of the finest cities in the world are built either alongside, or on both sides of, a river. London, Paris, and New York City are but a few. Access to waterways has historically been incredibly important, from opening up water transportation for trade, to providing access to, well, water (consisting of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen molecules, water is necessary for human life – it also helps grow plants which we can eat [eating is also necessary]).
So the fact that Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge were all built alongside the Grand River both makes sense (the early settlers, many of them German-speaking Mennonites from Pennsylvania, settled here for a reason) and has served as a major boon to the region.
However, there is one drawback of riverside life: the need will often arise to get from one side to the other. Today, we’re going to put the bridge back in Cambridge, and discuss its most famous river-crossing: Main Street Bridge.
Main Street Bridge
First of all: where, precisely, is the Main Street Bridge? As its name suggests, Main Street Bridge is part of Main Street. It spans the Grand River from east to west in a lovely part of Downtown Galt (often referred to simply as Downtown Cambridge).
The nearest intersection to the east side of Main Street Bridge is Main St. and Water St.; to the west, Main Street ends shortly after its bridge portion, leading to George Street.
Main Street Bridge happens to be situated at a very beautiful part of the city indeed (and, as we’ll explore later, many a filmmaker have noticed this fact).
The bridge itself is visually appealing, but even more appealing are the views it offers: of the Grand River, of the towering spires of Central Presbyterian Church, and of historic Downtown Galt.
There are many restaurants, bars, cafés, and shops nearby, and the gorgeous Mill Race Park is just up the street (the annual folk festival held here is one of the best recurring events in the Waterloo Region; read our review here).
The Bridge’s History (Bridge-story)
Main Street Bridge is a defining part of the beautiful Downtown Cambridge cityscape. And though it’s one of four fully functional bridges crossing the Grand River nearby (one a few blocks to the north, one a few blocks to the south, and a pedestrian bridge leading to the lovely Sculpture Garden), it is wholly unique and iconic.
That said, Main Street Bridge was actually just one part of a bridge-building project in the early Twentieth Century.
The period immediately following World War I was one of rapid growth for much of Canada, and much of this economic growth took place in the cities of southern Ontario.
Population sizes were on the rise, and with the strength of the post-war economy, so was personal wealth. Automobiles were becoming increasingly popular, and with more people, who had more money, the time had come for major infrastructure improvements to accommodate the new realities of urban life.
The Grand River is one of the Waterloo Region’s defining features, but as with all rivers, it presents the need for travellers to get to the other side. And so, starting in the mid-1920s, there was a project to build four bridges to cross the Grand River at four different locations.
First there was the Freeport Bridge in southeast Kitchener, built in 1926. Next up was the Grand River Bridge in Caledonia, built in 1927. Then there was our titular bridge:
Main Street Bridge in Cambridge, built in 1931. And finally, last but not least was Bridgeport Bridge in northeast Kitchener, completed in 1934.
Main Street’s Main Bridge: Main Street Bridge
Construction for Main Street Bridge got underway in late 1931, with a design credited to Archibald B. Crealock, and construction attributed to W. H. Yates Construction Company (more on Yates himself shortly).
The price for the bridge was roughly $55,000, which is just over $960,000 in today’s currency (not bad for a beautiful bridge like this one). Impressively, Yates was able to complete the bridge in just four months.
Like the other three bridges, Main Street Bridge is made of concrete, consists of multiple spans (two 94’ spans in total), and features a bowstring design.
Both the style and the building materials were chosen for their ease of upkeep, ability to support vehicular traffic (one lane going in each direction, in this case, as well as sidewalks for pedestrians on both sides), and fast build-times. ; bowstring arches were quite popular at the time, and they remain visually-appealing today.
Main Street bridge was designated a historic bridge, gaining protection under the Ontario Heritage Act (and adding its name to the prestigious list of Ontario Heritage Bridges) in 1982. It was closed for a brief period in 2009 for several repairs and reconstruction.
Main Street Bridge was at its time of construction, and still is today, arguably the most important bridge in Cambridge, linking the two sides of Downtown Galt which effectively serve as the entire city’s downtown core (the city’s main public transit terminal, Ainslie Street Terminal, and Cambridge City Hall are both here, for example).
A Real Who’s Who
Engraved on a metallic plaque, which is attached to the bridge itself, are the names of everyone who was involved in the erection of this fine bridge. From the mayor, J. M. Willard (he led the Galt Council from 1931-33), and his aldermen, to the engineer (Archie B. Crealock) and the Chairman of the Board of Works (W. W. Wilkinson), the major players are commemorated.
Let’s look a little closer at one of the figures listed: William H. Fairchild, listed simply as ‘Inspector.’ Fairchild was born near modern-day Brantford in 1872, but after graduating as an engineer, he eventually ended up in Galt, where he served as City Engineer from 1916-1921.
After this, he managed the Public Utilities Commission, but still played a major role in overseeing (inspecting, if you will) projects throughout Galt – from sewers and curbs to, yes, bridges.
Don’t worry: like a bridge, all of this is leading somewhere. Fairchild absolutely loved walking. Legend has it that he would sometimes walk up to 40 kilometers in a single day (if only Fitbits were around in the early Twentieth Century).
He was so famous for walking great distances that he was even called in to testify against an accused murderer, whose defence had been that he was in a different community than the person he murdered.
Fairchild walked circles around the defence and insisted the murderer would have had time to make it back and forth. Alright, let’s get back to Main Street Bridge, and back to the Twenty-First Century.
Not a Frigid Bridge
Main Street Bridge has its own, unique history, and its own, unique set of specifications, but there is more to the story, of course. The first of our more modern moments took place on a chilly Saturday in September.
Sue Sturdy, then artist in residence at the Cambridge Centre of the Arts, unveiled her incredible artistic project, in which Main Street Bridge was completely covered in thousands of scarves, blankets, hats, and other winter wares. Dubbed ‘Knit Cambridge,’ it was quite something to behold!
Ready, Set, Film
We’ve mentioned in the past how popular Cambridge (and Galt in particular) has become as a filming location. Many highly-regarded television series have made use of the city, including Margaret Atwood’s incredible The Handmaid’s Tale, the adaptation of Stephen King’s 11.22.63, and the Canadian Sherlock Holmes, Murdoch Mysteries.
And Main Street Bridge has been quite central to some of these scenes: the bright, beautiful pathways of Mill Race Park, with Main Street Bridge prominent in the background, pop up often in The Handmaid’s Tale, though the scenes themselves are often dark and dreary.
Indeed, Main Street Bridge had to be shut down for filming of parts of season 2.
That’s all the bridge-talk for today, but be sure to tune in soon for our coverage of the final Waterloo Region concrete bowstring arch bridge in our three-part Waterloo Region concrete bowstring arch bridge series (WRCBABS for short). And if you’re interested in the first one, you can check out the article on Freeport Bridge.
If you’re interested in buying or selling a home in the Waterloo Region, Guelph, or Wellington County (or you’re a bridge enthusiast), please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Written by Will Kummer