Stroll Across Our Swinging Bridge
by Mrs. V. H. Sangwine
Manitoba Pageant, April 1957
Prairie-dwellers who holiday at the West Coast are more than likely to visit the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. Many of these tourists do not realize that the town of Souris, 30 miles south-west of Brandon on Highway Number 2, boasts a suspension bridge 132 feet longer than the well-known one spanning Capilano Canyon. What's more, residents of Souris who have strolled over both bridges report that while the one at Capilano is admittedly higher, they prefer a walk on the hometown bridge because it has more bounce!
The Chamber of Commerce had a sign erected on Main Street pointing out the bridge's whereabouts, but other than that, it remains in the same rustic state it has enjoyed for fifty-three years, its entrance almost hidden by a tall neatly clipped caragana hedge.
Souris was expanding rapidly in the early years of the century and Squire Sowden, an early pioneer of the district, owned considerable property in the municipal subdivision of Idlewylde, which he hoped would become the town's first suburb. Most of the town lay on the west bank of the river and it occurred to Mr. Sowden that he could sell his lots more easily if he could provide a short-cut to the business section. as without this foot bridge, residents would have to go around by a substantial iron bridge which crossed the river some distance to the south and then toil back north again on an uphill road to the main business street.
Thus in 1904 he set about building a bridge resembling a wonder. sidewalk, 3 feet wide and 582 feet long. He nailed the boards to sturdy four-by-fours and supported them by means of two heavy wire cables. Then he nailed high strips of page wire along each side of the walk to prevent crossers who lost their footing from toppling into the water.
People were immediately intrigued with the bridge and one citizen recalls how the first pedestrians warily ventured out on it until they stood suspended amove the middle of the river. Others followed, and the bridge seemed to have established itself as part of the town. Then about a month after its erection a strong wind blew down from the north west tossing the bridge up to the sky like a long, dark ribbon, and finally flipped it completely over. An old timer of ninety comments wryly, "In those days we really had a swinging bridge in Souris!"
Undaunted, Squire Sowden added guide wires on either side of the bridge to steady it. A few years later Mr. Sowden gave his bridge to the town, and the council further insured its safety by anchoring the cables to cement blocks buried in the river banks. The town has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the bridge ever since.
In spite of warnings to the contrary, a swinging bridge challenges the adventurous to pit their sense of balance against its uncertain footing. History has it that one man vowed he could ride his horse across the bridge. He succeeded too, but most of the credit was given to the horse. Then there is a sad little tale of a harrassed delivery boy who attempted to cycle across the bridge carrying a sack of flour. He made the crossing - but the flour didn't!
Through thirty-five years little boys have thought it fun to occasionally flaunt the sign which forbids them to damage, sway, or jump on the bridge by running recklessly across it until their knees buckled under their chins. Fellows found the bridge a good place to take their girls for a Sunday walk, and, then as now, people of all ages like to bounces along in step with its rhythmic swing while the sun sparkles on the ripples of the river below.
To date the Souris Suspension bridge records no list of visitors to equal that of the one at Capilano but it adds a touch of picturesque charm to an already pretty prairie town.
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