Still a towering main story after all these years

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CAPTION: The Main Street bridge was visually stunning against the backdrop of a bright blue sky this morning.

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

It’s Closing Day in Welland.

The Main Street bridge is closed to traffic for the next five months so that it can get a new paint job to give it a spiffy look. The price tag: $3.4 million. This includes stripping the lead-based paint now on the structure, making repairs and giving it the new coat of paint. It’s expected the  paint will last 25-30 years.

This bridge, Bridge 13 as it is known in canal parlance, was opened to pedestrian and motor traffic on Tuesday, April 21, 1930 at 1 p.m.

“The cost of construction of Welland’s Main Street lift bridge amounted to $986,363, an amount considerably in excess of that of any other bridge on the canal,” the late historian William H. Lewis wrote in Volume 3 of his fine trilogy, A History of the City of Welland, published in 2003.

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CAPTION: This sign greets onlookers on the west side.

Mr. Lewis, an outspoken preservationist when it came to the Main Street bridge in particular, wrote: “From its inception, the Main Street bridge and the two now-removed 2,700-ton counterweights towered over the central cityscape of Welland, and to this day is a dramatic symbol and unique reminder of the city’s canal heritage. To remove the bridge for whatever reason would be an unthinkable outrage.”

Today, around mid-morning, a few rubberneckers stood on West Main Street near the bridge watching Closing Day get underway. A woman who was out walking her pooch stopped and talked to two construction workers along the canal trail near Bogner’s photography studio.

Let’s not forget that one of the largest crowds in Welland’s modern-day history turned out for a Main Street bridge-related event in 1972.

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CAPTION: The glory of yesteryear is captured in this photo on display in a window showcase at Bogner Photography and Gallery, 28 West Main St. It shows the laker, Stadacona, and the Main Street bridge in raised position in the background.

Mr. Lewis recorded the grand occasion with these words, here excerpted from his book: “What followed was an outpouring of civic enthusiasm perhaps not seen in the city since the spontaneous celebrations that marked the end of the Second World War a generation before. On the evening of Friday, December 15, 1972, and in spite of a snowstorm and bitterly-cold weather, some 25,000 persons thronged downtown Welland to be part of history. They had come to witness the Welland Ship Canal Bridge 13, the Main Street bridge, being raised for the ceremonial passage of the last commercial vessel ever to pass through centre of the City of Welland….”

Now here’s a thought: perhaps Wellanders of the current day would respond with equal enthusiasm for an Opening Day ceremony, at the end of this somewhat controversial bridge rehabilitation project.

It’s not too late to start planning such an event, Opening Day in downtown Welland.

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CAPTION: The Stikks Family of Welland looking somewhat dishevelled on their early morning visit to the Main Street bridge work site. The Stikks Family appears as an editorial cartoon on the blog. (All photos by Joe Barkovich).

(A former reporter and editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City.)

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