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At 1,282 feet or 390.75 metres long, the Hartland Bridge in Hartland, New Brunswick, is the longest covered bridge extant in the world. In 1898, plans and specifications were drawn up for a bridge over the St. John River at Hartland to Somerville, New Brunswick, where a ferry had been operating. It was built privately after a group of citizens on both sides of the River, faced by government inaction, came together to form the Hartland Bridge Company in 1899 for the purpose of constructing the new bridge. The bridge took three years to complete and was open to traffic on 14 May 1901, but its official opening was held on 4 July 1901 in the presence of over 2,000 people. Although in 1898, the Honorable Henry Robert Emerson (1853-1914) -- provincial Commissioner of Public Works -- had told the Board of trade delegation that a permanent bridge would cost between seventy to eighty thousand dollars, the bid for $27,945.00 was unanimously accepted by the board of directors from Albert Brewer, of Woodstock. Since the bridge was built out of cedar spruce and hard pine, and local businessmen were used, the costs came in at a much lower amount. The inauguration was presided by Legislative Assembly member Harrison A. McKeown (1863-1932), with guest speaker Honorable Henry Robert Emerson -- who had since become Member of Parliament in the House of Commons of Canada. The Hartland Bridge operated as a toll bridge until 1 May 1906 when it was purchased by the government of New Brunswick. According to archival records, the first fees were two cents per pedestrian, five cents for a single team of horses and ten cents for a double team. With a dislike for having to pay tolls, local residents successfully petitioned the provincial government to remove them and at about the same time, a debate was underway considering if the bridge was to be covered.
During the spring ice run of April 1920, two spans of the bridge was considerably damaged to the point where a ferry had to be installed at an old site below the village. When a local delegation asked the provincial minister of public works for his assistance in repairing the structure, it is said that the minister's preference was to replace the wooden bridge for a steel one. However, considering that the price of steel had rocketed during the Great War, the compromise was that the wooden bridge would be rebuilt, this time on concrete piers and was to be covered to protect it from the elements. Akin to all covered bridges in New Brunswick, it was a "kissing bridge." Kissing bridges date back to the years of horse and wagon traffic, when young men "trained" their horses to stop about half way across the bridge, wait while the couple shared a few kisses, and then continue to the other side of the bridge. The bridge was covered in 1921-22, to considerable opposition and concern, and sermons were even preached in the area, cautioning how a "covered" bridge would destroy the morals of the young people. It was also said that covered bridges provided a venue for rough characters to frequent it at night, frightening women and children. Lighting was installed two years later, in 1924. When constructed, the bridge was considered a major feat of engineering ingenuity.
The Hartland Bridge has received much recognition as the longest covered bridge in the world, besting the second-longest covered bridge (believed to be Hammer Bridge), located in Norway, by two hundred feet. The bridge was declared a National Historic Site of Canada on 23 June 1980 and nearly two decades later, on 15 September 1999, it was declared a Provincial Historic Site. According to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, the bridge's unique design and physical fabric give the site its heritage value: "Covered bridges date from the first decade of the 19th century when North American builders began using wooden trusses for long spans and covered them to prevent the truss joints from rotting. After 1840 the Howe truss, which introduced iron tension rod into the truss work, was widely adopted and New Brunswick erected numerous bridges using this technique, among them this one which was built in 1921 with the walkway being added in 1945." In 1987 the Olympic Torch for the 1988 Winter Olympics made its way across this bridge and in 1995 a Canadian postage stamp (#1572) was issued honouring the bridge. It is also interesting that the search engine Google -- as part of marking notable occasions throughout the year -- created a special "Google Doodle" depicting the Hartland Bridge on its Canadian homepage of 4 July 2012 to mark the 111th anniversary of the bridge's opening. The bridge has suffered some incidents over the years, but it continues on, roadworthy and dependable. Today, the Hartland Bridge continues to stand as a beautiful monument to Canadian engineering. In the 1950s, there were about 300 covered bridges that spanned New Brunswick rivers and today, the number had dwindled down to only 58.
On this day, 4 July 2021, we commemorate the 120th anniversary of the official opening of the Hartland Bridge, mark 99 years since the bridge became covered and 41 years since the World's longest covered bridge, located in Hartland, New Brunswick was designated as a National Historic Site.
André M. Levesque