Historic Sites of Manitoba: Canadian Pacific Railway Bergen Cutoff Bridge (Red River, Winnipeg)
This Canadian Pacific Railway bridge spanning the Red River in Winnipeg, formerly the Rural Municipality of Kildonan, was built as an alternate route to the company’s North Transcona Rail Yards which was under construction at the same time. The name originates from the Bergen station stop in its Carberry Subdivision. Construction began in January 1913, with substructure work handled by the Foundation Company Limited of Montreal. By the project was completed, the surrounding municipality had split in two along the Red River, dividing into West Kildonan and East Kildonan. (The latter was later partitioned again, creating North Kildonan.) To house the skilled labourers, a base camp was established on Lot 58 of the river’s east bank. Bunk houses, a dining room, and cook house were erected along with separate residences for the project’s superintendent and foremen.
The bridge’s substructure consists of ten concrete structures: seven large piers, a supporting pier, and two concrete abutments on each raised embankment. Most of the piers were built using the open cofferdam method, except for the fifth and sixth piers that supported the central swing span. These were completed using the pneumatic caisson process, the first time this technology had been used in Winnipeg. Starting work in the midst of winter afforded easy access across the ice surface and, to take maximum advantage, day and night shifts were scheduled. The concrete piers were sunk some 15 to 20 feet below bedrock. The third and nith piers were completed first, before June 1913, and the eastern abutment was finished in early June. To cross the river as well as major roads on each side, the double-track bridge was flanked by raised, graded approaches. This, combined with a rotating central bridge section, enabled ships to pass under the bridge. It also enabled two 60-foot-wide subways to be built at Main Street and Henderson Highway, as well as another two cutouts to the Kildonan Golf Course. Superstructure work was managed by the Dominion Bridge Company.
The first train crossing on 1 May 1914 was scheduled to coincide with the opening of the new rail yards and, on 18 June, the sites were toured by Lieutenant Governor Douglas Cameron, Acting Mayor McLean, several alderman, and members of the professional and business communities.
After the auxiliary terminals at the North Transcona Rail Yards were closed on 15 December 1928, the bridge was no longer used actively by the CPR. The tracks and ties—aside from those servicing the City’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre—have been removed from the split off the CPR’s Selkirk Line through to where the former section of Springfield Road in North Kildonan is now bisected by Chief Peguis Trail. The Main Street and Henderson Highway bridge cutouts have also been removed, along with the graded approach east of Henderson Highway, which has been leveled and mostly converted into residential development along the south side of Springfield Road between Henderson Highway and Raleigh Street. The bridge was stripped of decking and rails, with some ties remaining on the swing span. Trees now grow along the western riverbank where the bridge deck once lay. Access to the concrete and steel structure is severed on the east bank and restricted via the western approach. The pilot cabin atop the bridge remains, though it has been stripped of equipment.
Through the years, alternate uses for the bridge have been considered. The provincial government looked into using the span for the perimeter highway around Winnipeg but, by 1955, had abandoned the idea in favour of the present bridge to the north. In the early 1960s, the Metro Planning Commission evaluated the site for use within a proposed inner beltway. This fell through when the CPR refused to sell the property. In 1987, a local restaurateur in partnership with landscape architect Garry Hilderman proposed a housing development on the east side while converting the bridge into a restaurant and pedestrian corridor. They acquired 22 acres of land from the CPR but the plan was withdrawn within a year when they yielded to public pressure to leave the area undeveloped. The land was sold to the city, which now maintains a walking and cycling trail along the eastern approach to the bridge.
Photos & Coordinates
“New C.P.R. Bridge at Kildonan,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 March 1913, page 11.
“Fort Garry makes protests on Subways [Subways at Kildonan],” Manitoba Free Press, 31 May 1913, page 34.
“Constructing the foundations for C.P.R. Bergen Cut-Off Bridge,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 June 1913, page 11.
“Railway read to cope with big coop,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 September 1913, page 13.
“New yards will open May first,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 April 1914, page 1.
“Winnipeggers to view terminals,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 June 1914, page 5.
“The key to an empire,” Manitoba Free Press [Free Press Supplement Commemorating Manitoba’s Fiftieth Anniversary], 15 July 1920, page 21.
“C.P.R. dismisses 328 employees today,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 December 1928, page 2.
“CPR won’t sell or lease Bergen Cutoff,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 October 1953, page 1.
“Bergen Cutoff road span out,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 December 1955, page 1.
“Plea to CPR,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 February 1964, page 3.
“Kildonan residents battle riverbank developers,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 March 1987, page 3.
“Officials accused of gaffe which could cost city millions,” Winnipeg Free Press, 21 April 1987, page 5.
“Olympic hopeful suffers setback,” Winnipeg Free Press Weekly Northeast Edition, 28 August 1988, page 4.
“Development plan upsets residents,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 July 2003, page A3.
“Sitelines [Dreamin’ high],” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 July 2007, page F3.
Orders-in-Council #1913-0082 and #1913-1420, Library and Archives Canada.
We thank R. Vance Martel and Jim Smith for providing additional information used here.
Page revised: 8 June 2020