125th Anniversary of the Opening of the
Prince of Wales Bridge
The Prince of Wales Bridge, the first railway bridge linking Ottawa and Hull, was opened to regular traffic 125 years ago on 17 January 1881. In this article we will look at its construction and then explore a few of the changes and significant events that have subsequently taken place. 
The railway between Montreal and Hull was opened by the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway (Q.M.O. & O.) on 27 December 1877 and was extended to Aylmer on 6 August 1879.  The Q.M.O. & O. provided the most direct route between Ottawa/Hull and Montreal because the only other option at that time was the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway to Prescott and a transfer to the Grand Trunk Railway. Many travellers on the Q.M.O. & O. were faced with a difficult journey between Ottawa and Hull over rough roads and were frequently at the mercy of the (horse drawn) cab drivers and others who made the arrival and departure of trains at Hull a raucous event. Passengers were very frequently amused, on the arrival of the train at Hull, by the conductor opening the first class door and calling out “Ottawa”, then going to the second class car and calling out “Hull”. The Q.M.O. & O., which was a department of the Quebec government, planned to extend its line across the Ottawa River into the Chaudiere district of Ottawa, now known as Lebreton Flats. Surveys of possible sites for the Chaudiere railway bridge were carried out as early as 1873 when a location using Amelia Island in the Chaudiere was investigated. Later surveys used Lemieux Island, the route finally chosen. The successful bidder for the construction of the earthworks and piers, Horace Jansen Beemer, was announced on 28 April 1879. Mr. Beemer’s bid of $112,873.10 was the lowest of 39, the highest being $223,530.50. This was Beemer’s first construction work in the Ottawa/Hull area. 
Earthwork and Construction of the Piers.
This plan is dated 27 March 1879 and shows the location of the bridge and the approach from Hull at the top (north) to Ottawa (Chaudiere) at the bottom. The connection to the Canada Central Railway is shown at point B at the bottom as are the existing passenger and freight stations at the Chaudiere. At the north end, the line left the Q.M.O. & O. Aylmer branch at point A just south of the Hull station. The bridge is, in effect, two bridges with seven spans across the north channel to Lemieux Island and a further six spans to Duck Island on the Ontario shore. From Duck Island considerable filling was necessary to bring the line to the Canada Central Railway on the Chaudiere. The water was not very deep, the deepest being about 30 feet, however, at times the water flow was fast and this was to cause some problems. The piers were numbered north to south from 1 to 11. (Adapted from National Archives, NMC 145183)
Mr. Beemer wasted no time and by the third
week of May,
1879, some 30 men were working on the Ontario side of the river. However, labour difficulties soon became
apparent when the workmen went on strike on 3 June.
The reason was wages – the men were paid 85
cents a day and they wanted $1.10. This
did not last very long as on 23 June it was reported that the strikers
sitting around on lumber piles watching other men filling their places. As if this weren’t enough, some 35 stone
masons went on strike in early July. Wages,
again, were the problem, the original rates of pay
allow the men to make about 60 cents a day. 
Work on the piers was assisted by a steam tug which was built in the Hull shipyard of Messrs. J.W. McRae & Co. It was drawn through the city by three spans of horses and launched on the Ottawa River above Ottawa on 4 July, 1879. The boat, with a draught of about 40 inches, was used to haul barges of stone and other materials to the eleven sites for the piers. 
This shows a siding being constructed into Bells gravel pit at Britannia on the Canada Central line to Carleton Place. It is constructed to the broad provincial gauge of 5 feet 6 inches and was used to provide fill for the earthworks on the Ontario side of the bridge. A steam shovel was used in the pit.
The new line through Duck Island to the bridge proper passed over some low ground behind the Canada Central three stall round house near the Ottawa River. This required extensive filling and in July, Mr. Beemer leased two locomotives and 30 cars from the Canada Central Railway to haul gravel from Bells Pit at Britannia. It had been optimistically hoped that the bridge could be finished by the end of 1879. However, trains were still bringing fill in mid October at the rate of 300 cars, each containing 11 yards, daily and much filling was also required on Lemieux Island after the bridge spans had been put in place. It was evident that the project could not be completed in 1879 and work was shut down for the winter, with the exception of a few men in the Hull quarry breaking stone for cement purposes. However, good progress had been made. By the end of 1879 all four abutments had been completed, with the exception of the coping, and nine of the eleven piers had been finished. 
It was in December 1879 that the first problem with the rapid flow of water occurred. The Ottawa Citizen of 10 December 1879 explained:
“A barge loaded with clay and having 35 men on board was towed by the Chaudiere Bridge tug to pier no. 5 yesterday. The usual practice is for the tug to go a little above the pier, cast the barge loose and let it drop down to the pile, when it is snubbed. This was done yesterday, but the line fell short of the pier and the barge drifted towards the falls. The tug immediately backed but was soon aground and the men in the barge felt anything but comfortable, for every moment they were approaching nearer the cataract. A row boat was manned and put off to their relief, the rope being carried to the tug by this means just in time to save the barge and its crew from going into the Big Kettle.”
Mr. Beemer resumed work in mid February 1880 with rip-rapping the southern embankment and protecting the piers from water action. The steam tug was launched on 12 April.  Almost immediately there were problems with high water.
From The Canadian Illustrated News of 17 April 1880:
“Work on the Chaudiere railway bridge has been recently resumed, and at pier 5 a scow was anchored. On board was a portable steam-engine and a centrifugal pump, the weight of which is about ten tons. Recently a large cake of ice came dashing down the river, and coming into collision with the scow, started her adrift. The scow, with its load of freight, rapidly drifted down the current and went over the falls. The engine was on wheels, and was found canted over, but not injured."More problems were reported in the Ottawa Citizen of 21 April:
“Yesterday afternoon at three o'clock, another barge used at the Chaudiere bridge works went over the falls. This time four men had a very narrow escape from going over with it. The barge was loaded with clay used for puddling at the cofferdam. The tug boat had cast it loose when near pier No. 6, as was usual, it then having to be pushed up to the pier by men on board with long poles. The current, on account of the high water, was swifter than reckoned upon, and the barge became unmanageable, and was carried down towards the falls. The men on board were Joseph Dupont, Francis Furlough, Geo. Lapierre and J. Tooney. The first three named jumped into the skiff that was by the side of the barge, and made for one of the wooden piers used for holding the booms, in order to fasten a rope to bring the barge to. The man left on the barge threw a rope to them but it curled round the leg of Dupont dragging him into the water. With great difficulty he swam to an island. The man left on board was now in extreme peril. William Connelly, seeing the danger of the man, immediately went to the rescue in a light boat and got up to the barge just as it was entering the rough water of the falls. The man jumped in and it was with extreme difficulty and only by great exertion that they overcame the strength of the current and landed in safety. Connelly saved the man at the risk of his own life. The wonder was that it was possible for him to return after entering the troubled water. The barge went over the falls and was captured at Gilmour's booms, below Messrs. McRae and Co.'s shipyard.”Because of the high water, work was temporarily suspended on 13 May  but three days later disaster struck. The Ottawa Citizen of 17 May 1880 explains:
“The general manager of the works gave the following account of the accident:-
Yesterday, in company with Mr. Beemer, I made a trip across the river and we found the river so high and the current so strong that orders were given to the river foreman to tie up the tug and make no more trips across the river. This morning, he, (the river foreman, Dennis O'Brien) found he required a few sticks of timber and made one trip to bring them over, taking every necessary precaution, intending, as soon as he returned to lay up the tug until the water went down to the proper height for work again. In coming back they fastened the scow to the boom, in order to let the tug drop down below. The scow was on the inside of Eddy's boom. In dropping down, the scow swung end for end in the eddy and passed over the boom, leaving inside the boom and powerless to render any assistance. The two men on the scow had a lifeboat with them, one of them, Joseph Malboeuf, jumped on the boom and the one that was lost, La Berthiaume, got into the lifeboat, which was immediately swamped after being thrown out of the boat. He swam for the boom and when within a few feet of the boom, for some reason unknown to us turned and swam towards the scow, which was floating down the river about twenty five feet from him. He succeeded in catching a short end of rope hanging from the scow but apparently did not have strength to raise himself. The man in company with him said he would have had no difficulty in reaching the boom, where he would have been safe, if he had not turned to the scow. These are the facts as near as I can gather them from eye witnesses. We shall not float any craft until the water falls.”
Work did not resume until mid July, 1880. It proceeded relatively smoothly, apart from the boom of a derrick snapping while loading stones on to a barge on 22 July. A man who was directly under the boom, heard the cracking of the timber and made a dive into the water. He came up, his hat still on his head, and swam to shore and coolly went about his work again. The last stone was laid at a ceremony on 11 October which was accompanied by toasts and some speeches. Mr. Beemer could then concentrate on filling in on Lemieux Island, the first construction train being run over to the island from the south on 16 October. Beemer’s part of the work was finished by the end of November. 
Gauge of the Ontario Construction Trains
The gauge of the construction trains used on the Ontario side is a question which provides many problems for railway historians because, although we have a great deal of information, we don’t have a definitive answer.
Mr. Beemer hired two construction locomotives and 30 cars from the Canada Central Railway in July 1879 to bring fill material from Bell’s pit on the C.C.R. main line just west of Britannia. At that time the C.C.R. was broad gauge and the work in 1879 was carried out using broad gauge equipment.
After a short break, work was resumed in February 1880 placing rip rap on the southern approach to the bridge. This work had not been completed by the time the C.C.R. changed its gauge to standard in April 1880. 
With the change of gauge Mr. Beemer was faced with a number of options:
1. Change the gauge of the construction trackage to standard and either:
- convert the broad gauge equipment he was already using to standard gauge. This would likely not have been economic bearing in mind that construction equipment is normally very old and approaching life expiry; or
- dispense with the broad gauge equipment and complete the rip rap work with different standard gauge equipment.
2. Stockpile all the material needed to complete the rip rap work at the Chaudiere before the gauge of the C.C.R. main line is changed and complete this work using broad gauge track and equipment. This implies expensive double handling.
3. Lay a third rail between Ottawa, Chaudiere, and Bell’s pit and complete the work on the southern approach with the broad gauge equipment already on hand.
A further point to be considered is that the C.C.R. was building its main line west of Mackey’s (or Mackie’s), beyond Pembroke, using broad gauge equipment even after the rest of its system had been changed to standard gauge. Two broad gauge locomotives were sent up the line to continue the construction:
Last week a broad gauge engine was taken up to Mackey's station on board the morning train from Pembroke. It is to be used for construction and other purposes above where the track is now laid to, as the track above Mackey's is, for the present, to be constructed to the broad gauge. Five or six broad gauge cars, to be used with the engine, went up on board the train here Saturday morning. (Ottawa Free Press, 17 May 1880)
On 14 June 1880, the Pembroke Observer, said:Tuesday morning last another broad gauge engine and some eight or ten cars of rails went up.( Ottawa Free Press 14 June 1880 (quoting the Pembroke Observer))
Is it possible that the two broad gauge engines mentioned were those used by Beemer?
Is it possible that the rails had been lifted from a short lived dual gauge section of track between the Chaudiere and Bell’s pit?
Canada Central Railway 4-4-0’s Nos. 26, 27 and 28 (built by Taunton in 1870) were still broad gauge when the CCR was acquired by Canadian Pacific in June 1881.  One of these was isolated at Renfrew when the gauge was changed in April 1880 and was moved up for the construction work above Mackey’s. The other two are accounted for above so it is just possible that the two locomotives used by Mr. Beemer were from 26, 27 or 28.
Work on the bridge superstructure began in August 1880. The materials were delivered in standard gauge cars from the United States so there had to be standard gauge access to the bridge by August 1880. The bridge across the southern channel, on the Ontario side, was completed by October 1880 and it was only then that Mr. Beemer could commence the significant amount of fill work on Lemieux Island. Once again, the question of gauge arises. If broad gauge had been used it would have been necessary to lay a third rail over the bridge as far as Lemieux Island.
It is possible
work on the southern approach to the Prince of Wales Bridge was
broad gauge equipment after the C.C.R. had converted to standard gauge. It is likely that the fill work on Lemieux
Island was carried out with standard gauge equipment.
However, although we have a lot of
information on the subject there is no firm evidence and all we can
realistically say is that we don’t know.
An aerial view of the bridge looking from the north, Quebec, side.Lemieux Island is in the centre of the frame and the newly constructed Ottawa River parkway can be seen in the background,. City of Ottawa Archives.
Construction of the Superstructure
The $200,000 contract for the superstructure
was awarded to
Clark, Reeves & Co. of Phoenixville, Philadelphia who constructed
the bridges on the Q.M.O. & O. It
was originally intended that the materials should all be supplied from
Quebec side via Montreal. The reason for
this was that the Canada Central Railway was broad gauge and
would have been required from standard gauge cars to broad gauge at
Morristown or Brockville. However, the
Canada Central converted to standard gauge in April 1880 with the
the materials for the spans on the Ontario side were delivered to
Ottawa via Brockville
while those on the Quebec side came to Hull via Montreal. 
The iron for the spans on the Ontario side
on the Canada Central Railway in mid-August 1880.
Work started straight away and on 16 October
construction trains started to run to Lemieux Island.
This created a new recreation for Ottawa
residents who took advantage, during the weekends, to stroll over as
far as the
island to view progress. This must have been a somewhat perilous stroll
the wooden guard rails were not erected (by William Mason & Sons,
the lumber at their mill near the bridge) until
start on the Hull side until early October but this proceeded well so
18 November, only one more carload of iron was required for completion.
only delay to this part of the work resulted from a storm on 6 November
the traveller used in erecting the superstructure, together with some
blew into the water and was lost. This
delayed completion by about a week. 
The erection of the superstructure was described in some detail in the Ottawa Free Press of 31 August, 1880:
“Putting a bridge together
“First a wooden trestle is erected between the piers, starting from a shore end. This trestle is called false work, as it is only intended to serve a purpose, and that purpose is to aid in the erection of the substantial structure that is to stand the test of traffic, travel and time. Upon this trestle work, which is wider than the intended bridge, a rail track is laid, and the iron to form the superstructure is distributed. The centre panel is first raised, then the others along to first one end of the span and then the other, what is called "a traveller" being used. When the iron forming the span is all connected, the trestle work is knocked out, and that portion of the bridge sustains itself and a great deal more when put to the test. The end columns and top chords are the principal pieces of iron forming an iron truss bridge of recent invention, and after these comes the large floor beams, with four sets of longitudinal track stringers for the rails. The main iron columns and cords are braced together by diagonal tie bars and transverse bracing. Each span has a set of arched brackets with urns on the top corners. The truss is one of Clark, Reeves & Co.'s own patent pin connection. The bridge material is of wrought iron, with the exception of the compressive strains, (connecting) which are of cast iron”
Employees of Clark, Reeves & Co. started leaving Ottawa on 8 December, 1880, although a number stayed on until 11 January, 1881 to finish up the work. 
Opening to Traffic
A test was made on the Quebec side on Saturday 4 December, 1880:
Scott of the QMO&O accompanied by Mr. Peterson and Mr. Keefer,
the Hull station last Saturday afternoon, where a first class carriage
attached to the Aylmer branch engine, in charge of driver Austin and
T. Fenell, and the party examined the Chaudiere bridge as far as the
span. The party afterwards went to
Aylmer. It is expected that the last rail
will be laid on Tuesday.” 
On Thursday 9 December, 1880 the Ottawa Free Press reported:
“It is expected that trains will be run across the Chaudiere Railway bridge on Monday. Mr. Shanly is to act as government inspector at the testing of the bridge. In this connection it is understood that changes will be made in the superstructure of all the bridges on the Occidental Railway, in the adoption of a clamp instead of bolt and nuts as a fastener of supports, an improvement invented by Clarke, Reeves & Co.”
The actual test took place on Monday, 13 December, 1880:
“The bridge was tested yesterday afternoon. Messrs. P.A. Peterson, Engineer-in Chief; Mr. C.A. Scott, Assistant Superintendent; Mr. Davis, Mechanical Superintendent; Messrs. Massey and Howard, Assistant Engineers and Mr. Reeves of the firm of Clarke, Reeves and Co., of Philadelphia, the contractors for the iron work being present. The test was more than satisfactory and more than fulfilled the requirements of the specifications. On the deflexion being taken the first 150 feet spans gave a minimum deflexion of 1/4 inch and a maximum of barely 1/2 inch; the maximum deflexion of the 250 foot span was but one tenth of an inch. All the spans, which were in succession covered by the five engines brought together as close as they could be, came up again and did not show any permanent deflexion. The bridge is calculated to stand a pressure six times greater than ordinarily to be put on it.” Freight trains started running across the bridge on 16 December, 1880 on which date there was an official inspection by a party of gentlemen, consisting of Hon. Mr. Caron, Minister of Militia, Hon. Mr. Chapleau, Mr. Judah of Montreal, Mr. Senecal, Superintendent of the railway, Major. Chapleau, Mr. H.J. Beemer, and several other officials. They crossed the QMO&O Railway bridge in an official car. The trip was a successful one, crossing the structure at an ordinary rate of speed. The Q.M.O. & O. began to run some passenger trains into the Canada Central station on the Chaudiere on 20 December 1880. Regular freight and passenger trains started using the bridge on 17 January, 1881. 
Although there was talk in the press of a
formal opening by
the Governor General and invitation cards were sent out I can find no
such an occasion. Possibly, this was
because the new station facilities in Ottawa were not opened until
months later and also because of the action of the Dominion government
seizing the bridge. 
Seizure of the Bridge
the bridge was even open to traffic it
was seized, in mid-November 1880, by customs authorities on the grounds
under valuation of material in entry. The Quebec Government money was
garnisheed by the Dominion Government until the matter could be settled. Clark, Reeves & Co. had entered the iron
superstructure at $3.53 per hundred weight, paying $21,780 in duty,
per cent on $87,130.40. The Customs
Appraiser, who made this seizure on behalf of the Government, held that
should be paid on the material at a value of $4.50 per hundred. The firm objected to this and the matter was
referred to arbitration, Messrs. Taylor (
The report of the arbitrators was placed in the hands of the Minister of Customs on 19 February 1881, and on 7 March it was announced that Clarke, Reeves & Co. would be required to pay a forfeit of $26,000, in addition to the duty already paid. 
Seizure of the bridge did not affect train services across it.
Facilities at Ottawa
Although Q.M.O. & O. trains started running regularly into the Canada Central station in January 1881, this was only a temporary expedient until new passenger and freight facilities could be completed. The Quebec government agreed to buy land, construct and ballast the tracks and pay half the cost of a new passenger station at a total cost of $36,800.  In addition, both railways constructed new freight sheds. The new passenger station was a little to the east of the original Canada Central one and had its entrance on Broad Street. The track work and the station were completed by Horace Beemer. The new Canada Central freight shed was opened in early March, 1881and trains were able to enter the new passenger station for the first time on 9 May 1881. With the changes taking place, there were bound to be minor problems such as derailments caused by unfamiliarity with the trackage and the changes being made. The Q.M.O. & O. took possession of its freight shed on Monday 23 May, 1881 and the new Union passenger station (Ottawa’s first Union station) was opened the same day. 
Horace Jansen Beemer, who carried out the earthwork and built the piers, went on to a number of railway contracts in the area. He was responsible for much of the construction of the Pontiac and Pacific Junction and the Gatineau Valley Railways and became president of both. His experience on the Prince of Wales Bridge was put to good use in the construction of the
Clarke, Reeves & Co. of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania went on to build a number of other bridges in Canada the most notorious of which were the Ottawa and New York bridge across the St. Lawrence at Cornwall which fell in September, 1898 and the Quebec bridge across the St. Lawrence which fell in August 1907; both events taking place while the bridge was under construction.
The Canadian Pacific Railway
acquired all of the
railways then in operation on the Chaudiere. On
28 June, 1886 the first Pacific Express passed over the
Wales Bridge on its way from
In 1911, Canadian Pacific carried out
on the stone piers. Concrete was
poured down to the bed rock to protect the piers from the heavy
Reconstruction of the Bridge
By the mid
1920’s the original spans had become too weak for
the heavier locomotives that were being brought into service. On 1 August 1926 the work of removing the old
steel and replacing it with heavier steel was begun.  The
tops of the piers were lowered to allow room for the new, heavier,
spans. The work, which was completed in
February 1927 and cost $750,000, was done without interruption to
the Dominion Bridge Company of
A view of the southern, Ontario, end of the bridge taken before the graffiti artists took over.
Canada Science and technology Museum Matt-1573.
Acquisition by the City of
regular passenger train over the bridge was the
North Shore Budd car from
CP Rail RDC-5 9307 (nee CP RDC-2 9100, and later VIA RDC-1 6147), leased by VIA Rail has just entered the Prince of Wales Bridge with Ottawa to Montreal train170 on November 5, 1981. In ten days the train was withdrawn as part of the massive VIA Rail cutbacks. The sign at the top of the bridge over the years has been rediced to "INCE OF WALES". Photo by Colin J. Churcher.
CP C-424 4200, RS-18 u 1812 and RS-18 8792 have just exited the Prince of Wales bridge and are curving through Ottawa West with a ballast train in June 1983. Photo by Earl Roberts.Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the members of the
 Although Hull is now part of the City of Gatineau, in this article I shall continue to use the name “Hull” by which it was known for most of the life of the bridge.
 See my article “First Railway to Aylmer” in Branchline, September 2004.
 Ottawa Citizen 30 March 1873, 24 January 1878, 28 April 1879; Ottawa Free Press, 28 April 1879.
 Ottawa Free Press, 20 May , 3 & 4 June, 2 July 1879; Ottawa Citizen, 20 May, 3 & 4 June, 23 June, 3 & 4 July 1879.
 Ottawa Citizen, 3 and 4 July 1879.
 Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Free Press, 14 July 1879; Ottawa Free Press 25 July 1879.
 Ottawa Free Press, 18 October, 10 December 1879 and 14 January 1880.
Ottawa Free Press, 12 February and 4 March, 1880; Ottawa Citizen, 13 February and 12 April 1880.
Ottawa Citizen, 13 May 1880.
 Ottawa Citizen, 1 & 19 June, 12, 19 & 22 July, 12 & 18 October and 4 & 30 November 1880; Ottawa Free Press, 19 June, 12 & 14 October and 2 November, 1880.
 See my article “The Change of Gauge on the Canada Central Railway” in Branchline, April 2005.
 Railway and Locomotive Historical Society bulletin No. 83.
 Ottawa Free Press, 18 and 19 August, 1879.
 Ottawa Citizen, 21 August, 9 October and 18 November 1880; Ottawa Free Press 20 & 24 August, 24 September, 18 October and 15 December, 1880; Renfrew Mercury, 27 August, 1880.
 Ottawa Free Press, 7 December 1880; Ottawa Citizen, 8 January 1881.
 Ottawa Citizen, 7 December, 1880.
 Ottawa Citizen, 14 December, 1880.
 Ottawa Free Press 16 and 20 December, 1880, 12 and 13 January, 1881; Ottawa Citizen, 13 and 17 January 1881.
 Ottawa Citizen, 7 and 10 January, 1881; Ottawa Free Press, January 12, 1881.
 Ottawa Free Press, 11, 12, 17 and 18 December 1880, 6 and 7, January, 21 February and 7 March, 1881; Ottawa Citizen, 19 and 26 January, 1881; Globe and Mail, 22 February, 1881.
 Ottawa Free Press, 7 and 16 March, 1881; Globe and Mail, 8 March, 1881.
 44 Victoria - Documents de la session (Quebec) 1880.
 Ottawa Citizen, 30 November, 1880, 4 March, 1881; Ottawa Free Press 14 December 1880, 9 &10 May, 1881.
 Ottawa Citizen, 20 May, 1881; Ottawa Free Press 21 May, 1881.
 Commission of Conservation
 See my article “Centenary of the
 Information from Ray Farand.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, January 2006.