See the Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge

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When visiting Dawson Creek, take a side trip and see the first curved wooden bridge built in Canada (few remain today).

It’s a great detour if you’re at all interested in the history of engineering and highway construction (and, especially, if you want to learn more about the history of the Alaska Highway).

A “marvel” built by a Canadian company contracted by the US Public Roads Administration (no longer called that), the Kiskatinaw Bridge was part of the original Alaska Highway project, then bypassed in 1978, reportedly because it could not safely support heavy-load oil and gas trucks (those carrying more than 25 tons), which had to drive across the river instead!

It’s 30 km north of Dawson Creek, British Columbia in Kiskatinaw Provincial Park.

Here’s some of what the signage at the site has to say about the bridge:

“Here at Mile 20 on the original highway, the Kiskatinaw Rover posed an early obstacle. The location of the bridge site, near a hairpin turn in the river, forced construction of a curved right-of-way. Engineers developed this 190-foot wooden bridge with a super-elevated (banked) nine degree curve to conform with the bend of the highway. Contracted by a Canadian company, construction of this engineering marvel took nine months to complete. It was the first curved wooden bridge built in Canada and today, few like it remain.”

The bridge was built by Dow Construction of Toronto. It took nine months. During early-stage construction, it got so cold that work was halted and more than 600 cubic metres of concrete used to begin the structure had to be kept heated for 10 days at more than 20 degrees Celsius so it wouldn’t freeze.

Labourers were no doubt reminded of advertising used to attract them to the Alaska Highway that warned of severe conditions (including swamps, rivers, ice, cold, mosquitoes, flies and gnats causing bodily harm), with temperatures that would range from “90 degrees above zero to 70 degrees below zero.”

From the access roads near the bridge, there’s room to pull over and have a close look from the top. You can also go to the campground below the bridge on the south side and walk under it to see how it was built decades ago.

Kiskatinaw Bridge Alaska Highway History

According to Tourism Dawson Creek:

“The bridge is a three span, timber truss structure built 30 metres (100 feet) above the stream. Approximately 500,000 board feet of creosoted British Columbia fir were used in its construction. The fir was shipped from coastal B.C. to the railhead at Dawson Creek. It should have arrived in early 1943, well before spring thaw, but was not delivered until April. Breakup made for a tough haul through the mud from Dawson Creek. Further construction delays occurred when the temporary log bridge and much of the scaffolding were damaged by spring runoff that year and had to be replaced.”