Today’s photoblog post is one we’ve been very excited to share with everyone for a few days now. Vancouver Island in BC, Canada is an island that is only recently inhabited in terms of the world in general, but is rich with local history. We islanders hold our heritage near and dear to our hearts and when we find a cause to champion, we fight the good fight with much enthusiasm and vigor. Today’s story is one such story. Prepare to be amazed.
Today we look at the Kinsol Trestle. This is the largest free-standing wooden structure in North America, and widely believed to possibly be the largest in the world.
Nestled deep in the forests of Vancouver Island, by following dirt logging roads in very poor condition, sits this wonder of the world. A well-kept secret for decades, this bridge is now a symbol of community and deep love for our history.
Originally built in 1920 by the Canadian National Railways to service a new and burgeoning logging industry on the island, the trestle was designed to support the industry in moving materials up and down the island.
Times-Colonist: Reaching 187 metres (614 feet) long, 38 metres (147 feet) high – as tall as a 12-storey building – and gently arcing six degrees from south to north, it was built entirely by hand of timber on concrete footings. The result of these mostly anonymous pioneers’ handiwork is an Erector kit of such mammoth proportions that modern-day visitors are invariably awed.
Regular followers of our blog know that we have a deep, deep love for our local heritage architecture. Following this story has been a heartfelt and emotional time for us here and now that the restoration is complete and the bridge is open to the public, we are thrilled beyond words.
The last train rumbled across this massive structure in 1979, thus starting a 20+ year fight by local residents to somehow restore this structure and turn it into an item of pride for all to enjoy.
Times-Colonist: Comprised of as many as nine tiers of cross-hatched timbers above a Howe Truss span just above river level, the original trestle had its Howe Truss atop a wide-open span. This was not as attractive, aesthetically speaking, as the present structure, nor as structurally sound, as was demonstrated by the first bridge being damaged by a rampaging Koksilah River within 10 years of its completion.
The restyled, and now “rehabilitated,” structure, last used for rail traffic in May 1979, not only withstood 50 years of crossings by heavily-laden log trains, but a further 30 years of neglect, vandalism, arson and, as a consequence, the crushing weight of the firefighting cargo of a Martin Mars water bomber.
In 1984 a local historian, Jack Fleetwood, began the fight to restore this facility. Sadly he passed away and was unable to see his labor come to fruition. British Colombians, and history buffs worldwide, are forever thankful for his efforts and we all enjoy visiting this once secret and forgotten place in his memory.
As an engineer myself by trade, my appreciation and understanding of the challenges of designing and building something like this run very deep. To build something like this today, deep in the wild forests of the island here, would be a massive challenge and undertaking. To do something like this in 1920 is beyond my comprehension.
Times-Colonist: Try to imagine the scale. The trestle is made of timber — a latticework that can support railways trains weighing thousands of tonnes. It does not have driven piles, or steel or concrete beams. Its modern appeal lies in its simplicity, and the knowledge that with enough timber and enough imagination, the engineers of yesteryear could span a valley.
This is a testament to faith, to a can-do attitude that existed here at the turn of the century as the island was being inhabited and developed. Steam locomotives, laden with thousands of tons of lumber, would roll across this span on a regular basis.
As we stand on the trestle and overlook the Koksilah River raging below, we start to get a true sense for the scale of the trestle. If you look closely at this picture, you can see a small group of people hanging out on large rocks in the middle of the river. Look closer. Closer. You really have to look close… it truly is breathtaking.
The pipeline you see near the top of the image here is a natural gas pipeline that we were told eventually hooks-up and crosses the Straits to connect with the mainland. This pipe was huge. Ginormous, really. Context for scale, eh?
As we crossed and now stand on the other side of the trestle looking back, we get another sense of how huge this truly is. You can see a large truck in the distance, and down below people are walking the trails. I have a medical condition which makes it very difficult for me to hike large grades like this, so we couldn’t get down to the bottom to look up this day. Mrs. Toad and myself really want to make the full trek, and plan on heading back soon on a day where I can really take my time coming back up.
After a prolonged battle with the government and other parties which almost saw the bridge either completely torn down, or by some suggestions at least torn down to the bare lower structures rendering it safe for foot traffic, funds were allocated. $7.5M was eventually found to invest in this structure. And an investment it truly is. Completely refurbished and reconstructed using original design elements, this bridge will now stand for future generations to come and enjoy for years and years now.
CBC: The project manager was world-renowned heritage conservationist, Gord MacDonald, who hails from the area.
“This is really a world class structure and a secret of the Cowichan Valley, but I hope now more and more people will come here and have their socks blown off by its awesome scale,” he said.
Provincial officials said the restoration work included replacing unsound timbers and reinforcing the structure to ensure that the historic characteristics, including the span, height and timbered design qualities of the original structure, were preserved.
The sense of community pride surrounding this project and its ultimate success is palpable on Vancouver Island here.
I was so very excited to arrive the day we did for the shoot to find a huge group of people taking in the majesty of what’s been accomplished. This bridge is way deep in the forest and is tricky to access; these folks were all dedicated to the cause and went well out of their way to come and see this.
We couldn’t help but sense the energy left by those who built the bridge originally, by those who traveled across it in lumbering steam locomotives, and by those who came with joy in their hearts and an abundance of enthusiasm to lovingly restore the bridge.
This bridge is a true example of the power of humanity, and how we can make a huge difference in the world we live in when we come together united in a cause.
We are going back to the trestle soon. And again after that. And again. I love the feeling of being in the forest, surrounded by all the gorgeous huge trees we have, with the sound of the river rushing far below. This is a reminder that we’re all part of something much bigger than us.
It’s been a big joy to bring this post to you today, something we’ve been working on for awhile now. Thanks for taking the time to pop by, we hope you enjoyed the story and imagery. As always, we truly love to hear from all our visitors, so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have.