The Bridge over the Ottawa River at Fitzroy

By Colin J. Churcher and Raymond Farand

The Beachburg subdivision, used by the Ottawa Central Railway between Ottawa and Pembroke was built by the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway as part of its transcontinental main line.  It avoided Arnprior and Renfrew while the surveyors sacrificed farm and other buildings to maintain a direct routing.  This resulted in two large bridges across the Ottawa River at Portage du Fort and Fitzroy Harbour to carry the line through Quebec. Surveys were started in 1906 and the contract for the Fitzroy bridge was let to W.P. Costello and Gordon Munro of Pembroke in November 1912.  In 1913 it was decided to interchange the two through Pratt trusses in order to give a freer passage for the passing of logs down the river.  The bridge is of steel and concrete and is 1590 feet long.  The line was constructed eastwards from North Bay and track was not laid across the bridge until 1915.  The first official train, a Parliamentary Special, passed over the bridge very early in the morning of 13th October 1915 having left Ottawa at 23:15 the previous evening. 

In the late 1980s there were a number of steam excursions over this line hauled by ex-Canadian Pacific Railway 4-6-2.  Ray Farand writes about one of these trips.

I was standing near the CN bridge over the Ottawa River just west of Fitzroy (Ontario), waiting for the 1201 to return on the final leg of the Ottawa-Pembroke excursion on October 7, 1990. With 1201's whistle barely audible in the distance, two teenagers ran towards the bridge. Without breaking stride one teenager asked “Did you hear a train coming?” “Yes” was my reply, “it will be here in about ten minutes.” I expected them to stop short of the bridge, but they kept right on going out onto the first span of the 3/10 mile long bridge.

”Arriving at the nearest offshore concrete pier, the two dropped down and crawled underneath the decking to wait for the train. “Hey, you probably don't realize that a steam train is coming and you might get scalded by hot water or steam dumping on you.” With 1201 approaching the far end of the bridge I yelled “If you are too stupid to get out of there, at least go to the other side and out of my picture.”

”Slowly 1201 and her consist rumbled across the bridge. As the last coach gained the Ontario shoreline I watched for the two teenagers to ‘surface’. Much to my amusement, one of the lads was standing on top of the concrete pier wiping at his head and shoulders with a picking motion. I can't be sure, but I suspect that a passenger on the train delivered a very unwelcome message.

”I wish I could have been close enough to see the F-L-U-S-H-E-D expression on his face! They'll likely think twice about climbing under there again.”

Ottawa Central Railway, Spareboard, March 2008.

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