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Stephenson Road 1 Bridge

McCamus Bridge / Bird's Bridge

Stephenson Road 1 Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: April 15, 2015

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Stephenson Road 1 Over North Branch Muskoka River
Bracebridge and Huntsville: Muskoka District, Ontario: Canada
Structure Type
Metal 8 Panel Pin-Connected Pratt Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal Stringer (Multi-Beam), Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1892 By Builder/Contractor: Central Bridge and Engineering Company of Peterborough, Ontario and Engineer/Design: William H. Law of Peterborough, Ontario
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
132.0 Feet (40.2 Meters)
Structure Length
153.0 Feet (46.6 Meters)
Roadway Width
14.7 Feet (4.48 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 1 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge no longer exists!

Bridge Status: Demolished and replaced.

View The Environmental Assessment For This Bridge

This bridge was originally built in downtown Bracebridge in 1892. In 1922, when the bridge became insufficient for busy downtown traffic, it was relocated to this rural location where it has served traffic since. Here, it replaced a wooden pony truss bridge that had collapsed. The bridge is an extremely rare example of its type in Ontario, both as a pin-connected truss bridge, and also as a surviving pre-1900 bridge, both of which are categories of bridge that are rare in Ontario. Aside from replacement of the floor beams, the truss is unaltered in terms of design and original materials and should be described to have good historic integrity.

The bridge is sadly slated for demolition and replacement. The reasons given for replacing the bridge are structural deterioration and a desire for a wide bridge that opens up this road to year-round use. The structural deterioration deserves some discussion. The historically significant part of this bridge, the iron truss, is in good physical condition except for one unusual problem, which has apparently been an ongoing problem for decades. The bottom chord at the northeast corner is severely buckled, to the point where even the hip vertical pin and u-bolt hanger is twisted. As observed during a 2015 field visit it was surprising to see the bridge remained open to traffic with this problem. Today's engineers typically think even the slightest problem on an old truss bridge will cause the whole thing to collapse, although in reality these bridges are far more reliable than they are given credit for today. This bridge is evidence of how reliable these bridges can be even in bad circumstances. The cause of this buckling is actually not a truss problem, its a pier problem. The pier is slowly tipping inward, squeezing the truss together and causing the buckling. This means that despite the severe nature of the bottom chord buckling, this should not be seen as a reason to demolish the metal truss. The truss is not to blame for this problem, it is the concrete pier it sits on. If the bridge were picked off with a crane, and the pier replaced, the truss could be easily repaired and reinstalled. The couple panels of buckled bottom chord could be heat straightened, or replaced completely. Consider the Bridgeport Bridge in Michigan, which was twisted and distorted by a failing pier, but today is fully restored.

The Environmental Assessment for this bridge evaluated the heritage value of the bridge using a point-based system that is commonly used in Ontario. Under this system, the bridge did not score high enough to be considered as a heritage bridge! Given the extremely high rarity of pre-1900 metal truss bridges in Ontario, as well as the high rarity of pin-connected truss bridges in Ontario, this is quite alarming. The point-based system used here can be a useful tool, but like any system it is not perfect. In particular, it doesn't assign enough points in regards to a particular bridge's rarity. Another problem is that the point system only works if the person doing the evaluation knows what they are talking about! In this case, the bridge earned zero out of ten possible points in the material category, where the bridge was described as being built from "common materials." Elsewhere in the report, the bridge is described as a "steel" bridge, presumably the reason for classifying it as being made from common materials. However, this bridge, as one of the few pre-1900 metal bridges in Ontario is likely composed from wrought iron, a rare material that has not been manufactured in North America for decades, and ceased to be widely used on bridges around 1900. In lieu of detailed materials testing, any pre-1900 metal truss bridge should in practice be assumed to make use of wrought iron. This bridge in particular should be assumed to be wrought iron because the metal on the bridge, despite not being painted, shows extremely little section loss. The evaluation of this bridge described the metal as pitted and severely corroded. However, this is a bit misleading. The big thing to watch out for on metal is what is called "section loss" where rust actually eats away at metal, causing the metal to become increasingly thin, eventually even resulting in holes in the metal. This bridge does not display even minor section loss. The "corrosion" on the bridge in reality appears to be primarily surface rust. Wrought iron is a very special material. It actually acts somewhat like modern "weathering steel" and tends to develop a protective rust layer that does not cause section loss. It is far more resistant to deterioration than steel.

The original builder of the truss bridge is not known, and this hurt the bridge's heritage score. However, its worth noting that additional research could eventually reveal a builder. It was not possible for HistoricBridges.org to determine the builder based on the architectural elements of the bridge, such as the design of lattice portal bracing on this bridge. This may mean the bridge was built by a small bridge company, and this bridge may be the last surviving example of a bridge built by such a (currently unknown) company, which would increase the loss of heritage from demolition.

It would be nice to see the heritage value of this bridge officially recognized. Even if the desire to replace the bridge remains, the heritage truss span would be a great candidate for relocation and reuse, in particular for pedestrian use such as on a trail system or in a park. As mentioned, the truss itself is in reality resistant to deterioration from rust, and as long as it was kept clean and free from winter deicing salts, it could be relocated and reused, and would not even require paint. Truss bridges of this type have been relocated and reused in parks and on trails many times in the United States. Sadly, examples of this in Canada are less common, but one prominent example is Pont Jean-de-Lalande in Quebec.


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Maps and Links: Stephenson Road 1 Bridge

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