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Farrelton & Gendron Bridges

In the period between 1910–20 the Province of Quebec sought to encourage settlement and development of its hinterlands under the mandate of the Ministry of Colonization. One element of its program was to finance construction of development roads and simple wooden bridges. A covered bridge was built on the Gatineau River at Grand Remous in 1907 and another followed this at Farrellton in 1914, reportedly in response to political pressure spearheaded by the local Catholic church

Covered Bridge
Gendron Covered Bridge, Canada Day 1998

Until then Wakefield although a more established community, had remained aloof and uninterested in a bridge, but its Council had a sudden change of heart and applied for one too. Built in 1915, Wakefield's bridge was named for the then Member of the Legislative Assembly, Ferdinand-Ambroise Gendron. It was completed so quickly that it sat for some time in splendid isolation until it was linked into the local road network! Not surprisingly, the Gendron Bridge quickly became a crucial economic asset in the further development of the district and subsequently was recognized for the intrinsic beauty of its Tower Lattice Truss design and its location overlooking the La Peche Rapids.

Road traffic increased rapidly as the Second World War drew to a close and heavier vehicles began to take their toll on the old bridge. The posted limit for the bridge, for a truck, was only 4 tons. A letter dated 1944 from Allan's Travel Service sought clarification from Transport Quebec about bridge crossing for an empty bus (6 tons) or loaded bus (9 tons). An official reply was given within the week that the maximum limit was in fact 7 tons, so that the empty bus could cross but its passengers would have to walk!

Gendron Bridge burning
Arsonists strike the Gendron Bridge, 1984

By the late 1970s, the weight limits imposed for the bridge had become a major concern to the Municipal Council, which requested a modern bridge in addition to the Gendron covered bridge. By 1981, the old structure was deteriorating further and its sagging spans were cause for concern. Major repairs and alterations were completed in that year at a cost of $280,000

Although a new bridge was planned, the load and height restrictions of the Gendron Bridge were evidently too much for some people, and during the night of July 10, 1984, it was burned by arsonists. It was an unforgettably sorry sight to see the famous landmark in flames and then drifting down river and into history. As the newspapers reported, the "heart was torn out of the village."

Following the initial shock of the loss and the difficulties in awaiting a permanent replacement bridge, a few residents began quietly discussing the idea of rebuilding the covered bridge as a community project.

Bridge abutments after the fire
Bridge abutments after the fire

Until then Wakefield although a more established community, had remained aloof and uninterested in a bridge, but its Council had a sudden change of heart and applied for one too. Built in 1915, Wakefield's bridge was named for the then Member of the Legislative Assembly, Ferdinand-Ambroise Gendron. It was completed so quickly that it sat for some time in splendid isolation until it was linked into the local road network! Not surprisingly, the Gendron Bridge quickly became a crucial economic asset in the further development of the district and subsequently was recognized for the intrinsic beauty of its Tower Lattice Truss design and its location overlooking the La Peche Rapids.

With an estimated replacement cost of over $600,000 the task of fund-raising would obviously be a challenge for a small community.

Resolution to the Tragedy

From 1991 through 1997, various successful fund raisers were held to raise money to help rebuild the bridge. Money was also raised through private donations from people as far away as Texas. Local companies as well as government grants also donated money.

In 1994, the Bridge Committee received final approval for a federal Unemployment Insurance Job Creation Grant. The grant permitted hiring six labourers and one administrative support secretary for six months. The agreement included a $26, 000 grant for related project costs, to be matched by the committee.

Terry Flaherty was hired as supervisor of a crew of six workers. That year all 350 boom logs were sawn and the lumber moved by rail from the Dery Quarry (at Farm Point) to our work site in Wakefield. The first truss was surveyed and laid out on the ground, the bridge abutments checked and surveyed, and the adjoining Hendrick Park site cleared.

Learning from difficulties encountered in the first year, for the next two summers a core team of two—Rob MacLeod as project co-ordinator and Mario Breton as his assistant–was engaged. Rob had been a volunteer in the first year and had proved his enthusiasm and interest in the project. As a newly graduated Civil Engineer, Rob was then working in a restaurant and leapt at the opportunity to be a major part of this project. Mario was a very experienced jack-of-all-trades who could tackle any task, and also knew where to go to borrow odds and ends of equipment that were needed from time to time. These two men set high standards of effort, technical knowledge and creativity applied to getting the job done. There is no question that their leadership, teamwork, and work example were crucial factors in the high rate of progress that was achieved in 1995 and again in 1996.

Reopening of bridge
Governor General Romeo Leblanc opens the rebuilt Wakefield Covered Bridge, 1998.

In May 1996, a federal grant to hire two summer students and two labourers who were receiving, Unemployment Insurance was obtained. From time to time we benefited from considerable inputs of volunteer workers, but our crew of six accomplished the bulk of the work: these four along with Rob and Mario.

On September 4, 1996, CDS Building Movers of Stittsville moved the first of two 144-foot spans by a huge tractor-trailer to a barge assembled near the Wakefield General Store.

By Saturday, September 6, 1996, the spans of the bridge were set on its piers. A timely interest-free loan of $6,000 from the Historical Society of the Gatineau allowed the bridge to be roofed before winter. The siding and painting of the bridge was completed in August of 1997.

The official opening of the bridge took place in October 4, 1997. The Wakefield covered bridge, is now a popular attraction, providing local residents and tourists alike with a scenic walking route, and access to a popular swimming spot amidst an outcropping of rocks for lounging on the Gatineau River.

Faulkner, Neil, Excerpt from Up the Gatineau! ,Vol. 23, 43.

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