New bridge petition launched

Spuzzum First Nation is fighting to preserve the historic Alexandra Bridge

Grand Chief Robert Pasco speaks at the Alexandra Bridge petition launch on Saturday

Spuzzum First Nation has launched a petition to save Alexandra Bridge in the Fraser Canyon.

The petition, which has already garnered about 370 names, supports the preservation of the bridge in traditional First Nations territory as a national historic landmark and icon of Canadian transportation history. The goal is to see a long-term plan developed to preserve, restore and enhance the structure.

“It’s one more historical site that we’re going to lose if we don’t do something about it,” said Spuzzum First Nation Chief James Hobart. “It’s an important bridge that has done a lot for B.C. People from all over the world have been there.”

Spuzzum First Nation is urging the provincial government to play a leadership role in assembling the financial and professional resources necessary to preserve the structure. They also hope Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone will bring together key corporate, government and community stakeholders to discuss the practical next steps in restoring the bridge structure and creating safe pedestrian access.

Hobart said he did receive an email from Stone this week stating the ministry’s commitment to working with Spuzzum First Nation and its partners to facilitate discussions on furthering the structure’s restoration. Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness has also agreed to take the petition to Victoria and present it in the legislature.

“This means we’re going in the right direction. In the past we haven’t had any commitment from any political leader,” said Hobart. “The bridge is a destination and really big tourist attraction. It is important to people.”

Built for automobiles in 1926, the current bridge replaced the original wagon bridge of 1863. The structure requires repairs to bring it up to current building standards capable of carrying maintenance vehicles. Deterioration of cement and caps on the bridge towers that hold the cables in place specially need to be addressed. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure completed an assessment and noted the bridge is safe to walk across but requires work in order to protect and preserve the structure. In 2012, the government estimated the cost to repair and preserve the bridge for 75 years at $11.9 million.

The goal is to make the preservation of the bridge a legacy project for the Canada150 celebrations in 2017. In addition, Hobart said there’s opportunities to expand the provincial park at the same time. The eastern half of the park has room for an RV campground which would enhance the visitor experience at the site and promote longer stays in the Fraser Canyon. Hobart said Spuzzum First Nation would also like to see an interpretive centre built to share the site’s many stories.

Spuzzum First Nation kicked off the launch of their campaign with their first public fish ceremony and potlatch on Saturday. The annual event is typically held on reserve.

“The purpose of this gathering is really to acknowledge the salmon and it’s value to all of us. What we do is try to awaken people to the value of water quality. There’s a lot of things that man has done to impede the movement and migration of the resource up the river,”said Grand Chief Robert Pasco, chair of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council. “Our people, as a whole, really appreciate the fact that there are some arrangements that we’ve been able to negotiate with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that helps us try to maintain the wellness of the salmon.”

For anyone still interested in signing the petition, Hobart said it will be available online at www.newpathwaystogold.ca, www.trailscrossing.com, and travelthecanyon.com. Trail’s Crossing Friendship Centre also plans to make the petition available in person at the centre on the corner of Wallace Street and Sixth Avenue in Hope.

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