HypheNatons: the Poetics and Politics of Canadian and Canadian-American Bridges

by D.M.R. Bentley


 

Perhaps in your city there is a structure so potent and glorious that its existence in your mind becomes the actual architecture of your mind – a structure through which all your dreams and ideas and hopes are funneled.
     In my city, Vancouver, there is one such structure, a fairy-tale bridge called Lions Gate Bridge. Its three delicate spans link the city of Vancouver with the suburbs of the north shore ..., and with the mountains and wilderness of British Columbia beyond those suburbs.

–Douglas Coupland, Polaroids from the Dead (1997) 69

For Helen, the journey is not complete without bridges and their possibilities.

–Lynne Davies, "On the Train," The Bridge that Carries the Road (1999) 85

In "Poetry Dwelling Thought," Martin Heidegger uses the construction of a bridge as an example of the way in which "building" transforms "space" into "location" and thus performs a function that is essential to human "dwelling" or emplacement. A bridge "does not just connect banks that are already there," argues Heidegger, it "designedly causes them to lie across from each other" by setting "one side against the other" and, in so doing, "bring[ing] to the stream the one and the other expanse of the landscape lying behind" its banks (152). More than this, a "bridge lets the stream run its course and at the same time grants the way to mortals so that they can come and go from shore to shore" and, through its connection with the metaphorical bridge from life to death, "gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals" (153). Using Heidegger’s very suggestive remarks as a point of departure, this essay will examine some of the ways in which bridges have functioned in Canada and Canadian literature, focusing first on bridges within Canada and then on bridges between Canada and the United States. As will be seen, both as "thing[s]" in the world (Heidegger 153) and as an inspiration for architexts, Canadian and Canadian-American bridges have indeed done much more than "connect banks": they have contributed to nation-building, strengthened provincial rights, bolstered local economics, served as identifying icons, cemented and symbolized Canadian-American relations and, for at least one writer, thrown into relief the arbitrary, artificial, and even destructive nature of the border between the two countries. Since the events of September 11, 2001, they have also been a focus of anxieties and tensions that perhaps have distant precursors in John Richardson’s Wacousta; or, the Prophecy. A Tale of the Canadas (1832), where bridges are places "at which something stops ... [and] from which something begins its presencing" (Heidegger 154), liminal spaces where the comfortably known may encounter either a friendly or a terrifying "Other."

II

Heidegger’s observation that a bridge is always in and of itself a "thing" that "gathers" existing entities together into new relationships is especially evident in the Union Bridge that was built between 1826 and 1828 across the Ottawa River at Chaudière Falls as part of a chain of bridges that would provide “‘the first land communication between the two provinces’” of Upper and Lower Canada (John By qtd. in Ross 80). Very likely inspired by a design in Andrea Palladio’s Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura (1570) (Leggett 53, 59), the Union Bridge displayed a Palladian simplicity and symmetry of form that led the Montreal Herald to describe it on February 12, 1827 as a "beautiful arch" (qtd. In MacTaggart 1: 344, and see Mark Andrews 138)1. More prosaically, it was a wooden truss of 199 feet mounted on dry stone pillars that "was suggested by Lieutenant-Colonel [John] By; planned by Mr. [John] MacTaggart; and executed under the ... superintendance of Mr. Thomas MacKay, of Montreal" (qtd. in MacTaggart 1:344) – that is, conceived, designed, and constructed by three men who played central rôles in the creation of the Rideau Canal (By and MacTaggart, his Clerk of Works) and the Lachine Canal (MacKay). "[A] Bridge from land to land ... Connect[s] shores by easy intercourse / Which distant lay and were to others strange," MacTaggart would write in his long, unfinished poem "The Engineer," and this was at least partly true of the Union Bridge: completed ten years before the Act of Union (1839) officially transformed Lower and Upper Canada into Canada East and Canada West on either side of the Ottawa River, it served for seven years until its destruction by ice on May 18, 1836 as neither "a mere bridge" nor "exclusively a symbol" (in Heidegger’s definition, an "express[ion] [of] something that strictly speaking does not belong to it" [153] ), but as a gathering place that brought to the site of what is now Ottawa the landscapes and peoples lying to the east and west and "caus[ed] [them] to lie across from one another." As Gertrude Van Cortlandt would write in Records of the Rise and Progress of the City of Ottawa (1858) of the more durable structure that replaced the Union Bridge in 1844, a "suspension bridge erected by the Provincial government at a cost of $66,448, spans the foaming chasm [of Chaudière Falls], and unites Upper and Lower Canada" (x). No more than the first Union Bridge did the Suspension Bridge or any of its successors near one of Canada’s two "national" capitals eradicate the fact that places and peoples can be both connected and "strange" to one another, but this surely inheres as much in the nature of borders and differences as in the structures that span them. A border or boundary is certainly a site "from which something begins its presencing," but it is also a site that demarcates the distinction between A from not-A, "us" and the "Other," perhaps "us" and all "Others."2

     Even when they cross borders, however, bridges put places that were separate in touch with one another in a way that substantiates a bond and holds the promise – or threat – of a unity. In “Phosphor Ghost” (1991), the Ottawa poet Mark Frutkin (1948- ) writes of the fire that in 1900 “burned down two-thirds / Of the city of Hull” on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River as an “Indelicate consummation” that it “Swept across the Chaudière Bridge / - / To cut a mile-width swath / Through the city of Ottawa”:

The bridge a triangulation of flame
See the glitter in a horse’s eye
See the bridge in the river
One city reflecting another…
(35)

In “provencher bridge” (1998), the Manitoba poet Patrick Friesen (1946- ) is less ironical about the connective power of bridges: "[S]he’s the stranger / across the river / the other one," he writes of “suzanne from le havre / montreal or brest”:

we live . . .
with our different ways
how we genuflect or not
how we speak or dance
where our ships came from
we live like that
meeting on the bridge
some moonlit nights
the river glittering
beneath us . . . .
(35)

“The arts are a bridge between the possessive, acquisitive profit-making instincts of mankind and the free realm of the spirit,” suggested Lawren Harris in a notebook;

An engineer builds a bridge – and when it is completed he surveys the thing he has designed and sees it is not only adequate for its purpose, but sees that the bridge expresses it, then he is thrilled. He is thrilled not so much by the usefulness of the bridge but at its expression of function, of meaning – its spiritual side, as it were. And that thrill is the thrill of art. Now, in this we see two realities: the reality of the bridge as a means of crossing over a river, and its reality as an expression – its reality as a symbol, which can stir us inwardly. (qtd. in Colgrove and Harris 4)

In Harris’s view, as in Heidegger’s, bridges are not merely the “dominant connecting structures” akin to “roads and high-tension cables” that Herman Hertzberger describes in Articulations (2002) (57), but elevated and elevating conduits or conductors of emotion and spirituality, expressions and generators of mental as well as physical states.

One of the most accomplished and probably the longest treatments of a bridge in nineteenth-century Canadian writing came from the pen of Barry Straton, a cousin of Charles G. D. Roberts, who described him as "deficient [in] education" but credited him with "a fine ear for melody" (Collected Letters 84). Published in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1887 and dedicated to the province’s Attorney General and premier, Andrew George Blair, "On the Occasion of the Opening of the Bridge at Fredericton, November 27th, 1887," The Building of the Bridge. An Idyl of the River Saint John was inspired by the construction between 1884 and 1887 of the two-arched bridge that was "[d]ubbed ‘Blair’s Paper Bridge’" by critics because it consisted of "cribwork piers [or Burr trusses] and a wooden superstructure" rather than the "more expensive stone and steel" that were then becoming common (Young 77, Hall 435).3 Intended by Blair "to link Fredericton to the villages growing up around the railway line and the factories of Alexander Gibson, his more prominent supporter" (Young 79), the Fredericton Bridge was built of wood for two additional reasons: wood was readily available locally, and the logging, milling, and utilization of it would provide much needed work at a time when New Brunswick was suffering from severe unemployment and an economic depression as a result of the decline in the wooden shipbuilding industry. (The Broadway Bridge [see also: i] [1933] in Saskatoon, which has since become of that city’s "landmark[s]," was similarly conceived as a "labour-intensive design" and "Depression-relief project" [Ball 90-91].) This helps to explain Straton’s close attention in the central section of the poem to the various types of wood (birch, cedar, pine) that have been "Called from the eloquent solitudes / Of fair New Brunswick’s wealthy woods" for the building of the bridge and his subsequent praise of its builders as exemplars of "the dignity of toil! / ...our country’s flesh and bones,– / ... the nation’s beams and stones" (247-49, 299-301). Political and economic reasons may also have dictated the choice of a local engineer, Alfred Haines, as the bridge’s designer and Straton’s praise of him a "skilled, ingenious Engineer" whose "plans for strength and grace combined" display an understanding of the merits and uses of different woods (see 225-98). Perhaps because Straton had direct or indirect knowledge of the essay that David P. Billington regards as the seminal document in the "new art of structural engineering" (36) – the entry on "Bridges" by the Scottish architect and civil engineer Thomas Telford in the 1814 Edinburgh Encyclopaedia – his praise of the bridge and its designer comes close to reiterating Telford’s "three leading ideals" of bridge design: "efficiency, economy, and elegance" (Billington 5, and see 31).

     The selection of local materials and a local engineer was by no means the only political dimension to the Fredericton Bridge. When Blair announced plans for it in 1884, the federal authorities objected on the grounds that because the Saint John was a navigable river "the province had no authority to pass legislation for the construction of a bridge" over it (Young 77). "[A]s construction proceeded in 1884-85 Blair made his peace with the federal government," but not without "reserving the right, ‘if occasion arises,’ to dispose of the legal or constitutional matter in the courts" – a position that reflected his leanings towards radical Liberalism (see Young 76). Little wonder, then, that Straton follows his account of the construction of the Fredericton Bridge with a paean to the "Elected Architects of State" who "caused this Bridge to be" and who "plan and build our Country’s fate" as the custodians of "The people’s sacred, governing will" and enjoins them to mould a "purer Union" by "Expounding our full Provincial Rights" and countering "jealousies and slights / ... with State-craft wise and bold" (373-86). Straton concludes his paean to the "Elected Architects of State" by urging them to higher and greater things in diction and a sentence structure appropriately reminiscent of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer4:

So work ye on our Bridge of State,
Whose graceful spans are happy years
Between the shores we may not see
Of time and far eternity,
Unbroke of craven doubts and fears,
Leading to Empire broad and great, –
So work ye on our Bridge of State,
Whose piers are deeds of massive strength,
Whose growing roadway’s breadth and length
Was planned by lives whose lustre fate
May never darken or abate,
That, when these days are ancient years,
Your State-craft shine full bright like theirs.
(386-99)

Extravagant (not to say Heideggerian) as this is in its allegorical extrapolations and elaborations, it pales in comparison with Straton’s progressive and Platonic vision of Fredericton Bridge earlier in the poem as one of "The pleasing structures of this land" that will assure "That people shall not retrograde" and, rather, lead the "soul" through "The love of beauty" to "higher altitudes" (235-46). In the context of The Building of the Bridge, Heidegger’s writings about bridges seem almost understated.

     And there is more. Before embarking on his description of the construction of the Fredericton Bridge, Straton presents the reader with a "Poem" addressed "To the River Saint John" and with a history of "the Bridging Art" from "barbarian years" to the mid-nineteenth century (76, 37). With his eye already on the longue durée, he opens the former with an allusion to the origin of the river in the separation of "waters ... from the black night of chaos" in Genesis 1 and proceeds first to characterize the building of the Fredericton Bridge in terms of a marriage service that will "bind" the river’s "tides despotic " "like a golden ... band" that "no stress of weather" shall "Put ... asunder" and then to characterize the river itself as the muse who will provide him with the "knowledge" and "inspiration" to "sing the bridal" (1-15). Unguardedly optimistic as it proved to be (the Fredericton Bridge was destroyed by fire in 1905), Straton’s epithalamic conception of both the bridge and his poem is merely a somewhat sentimental version of the traditional and still commonplace notion that bridges "join together" (5) or unify entities that are opposite but complementary to one another. Less venerable and enduring is his plea to the river to "Move [his] soul to song as strong as [its] resistless flow" (11), though this also has numerous precedents, most notably in the famous and extremely influential lines in John Denham’s Cooper’s Hill – "O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream / My great example, as it is my theme!" (Denham 77) – that John Hollander identifies as the locus classicus of "the idea that lines of verse should move like flowing water" (151, and see Bentley Mimic Fires 42). From his figuration of Fredericton Bridge as "a golden marriage band" on the finger of "Fair New Brunswick’s proudest stream" (19), it seems clear that in designating The Building of the Bridge an "Idyl" Straton was using the term in the traditional sense of a "composition which deals charmingly with rural life" and "ordinarily ... describes a picturesque rural scene of gentle beauty and innocent tranquillity and narrates a story of some simple sort of happiness" (Congleton 362).

     Although Straton’s history of "the Bridging Art" purports to be inspired by the Fredericton Bridge itself, it is in fact a versified form of the sort of article that he could have found under "Bridges" in any number of easily available reference works such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Its primary interest for the present discussion lies not in its details (some of which would nevertheless be fascinating to a reader unacquainted with the history of bridges),5 but in its insertion of the Fredericton Bridge into a narrative of progress that is almost as firmly grounded in the four stages theory of social development as was Thomas Cary’s Abram’s Plains almost a century earlier. Just as the construction of a "quay" and the building a ship were evidence to Cary that by 1789 "commerce" had gained a "footing" on "both sides" of the St. Lawrence and, that Lower Canada was therefore attaining the highest stage of development (100-115), so the presence of a "graceful bridge" across the Saint John is for Straton proof of New Brunswick’s "prosperity" and confirmation of the ability of its "lumberers" and "panting mills" to "Coin ... / That wooden wealth which, shipped o’er seas, / Or to our growing towns supplied, / Returns in golden treasuries" (20-21, 414-22). In Cary’s terminology, the agricultural and commercial stages of social development see the "rudeness" of the savage and barbaric stages replaced by civilized "polish" and "refinement." In Straton’s terminology, the "grace" of Fredericton Bridge is the product of a "prosperity" born of new Brunswick’s natural "bounty" and its "perfect" "piers / And airy spans" the evidence of progress far beyond "barbarian years" when bridges consisted first of "treacherous stepping-stone[s]" and then of "safer fire-wrought beam[s], / Reared by the rude arch-architect" (431, 37-44). As late as 1911, Henry Grattan Tyrrell, a son of the Ontario civil engineer, northern explorer, and mine promoter James William Tyrrell (1863-1945), would begin his magisterial History of Bridge Engineering by observing that "[p]rimitive races were content with rude structures made of logs and trees thrown across streams, or with slabs resting on stepping stones in the water, but the development of civilization and the beginning of commerce created a need for more secure and better crossings" (15).

     The Building of the Bridge ends as it began with an address to the Saint John River. Having fleshed out his portrait of the river as a site of "grace and bounty" and filled in its background with depictions of its natural attractions in the manner of Roberts and Isabella Valancy Crawford,6 Straton delivers himself of an "Envoi" while purporting to "Lean o’er [the water] from th[e] bridge," a position not possible prior to its construction (431, 557). Thus situated, he construes "the mystic River" as a figure of "Time" that will continue to pass after the passage of "bridge and toilers" and will "abide" even "the unbuilding of the spheres" (552-53). By availing themselves of the position near but above the water that the bridge affords, people may "con [the river’s] song aright" and be "Oblivious, for a little while, of Time’s strong westering flight" (557-60). In other words, the bridge makes spatially possible as apparently never before the achievement of both a proper understanding and a temporary transcendence of the flow of life, an apprehension of Time as both transience and endurance. Straton might not have agreed with the teleological aspect of Heidegger’s argument in "The Origin of the Work of Art" that by standing where it does a "building" "first gives to things [in its vicinity] the look and to men the outlook on life" (41, 43), but on the evidence of The Building of the Bridge. An Idyl of the River Saint John he fully appreciated the power of a bridge to bring into existence a new spatial and, therefore, perceptual relationship between people and their surroundings.7

     Exactly a century after the appearance of Straton’s poem, Michael Ondaatje published the novel that contains what is now surely the best-known description of a bridge (or viaduct)8 in Canadian literature: In the Skin of a Lion (1987). Set mostly in Toronto in the early decades of the twentieth century, Ondaatje’s best-seller takes as one of its focal points the Bloor Street Viaduct (see also: i), a high-level bridge that was built during the First World War to overcome "the dual geographic obstacles of the Rosedale ravine and the Don valley" that were hampering urban expansion to the east of the city (Carr 165). Designed by the Toronto architect and urban planner John Mackenzie Lyle (who is briefly characterized as a visionary in the novel),9 the Bloor Street Viaduct consists of six concrete pylons supporting five steel spans that carry "a concrete-slab roadbed...accommodating two [traffic] lanes...two sidewalks," and a "formal balustrade" (165-65). Beneath this top level, a lower deck makes "[p]rovision ... for a rail line in anticipation of the city’s future transportation needs" (166). As Angela Carr observes in her study of Edmund Burke,10 the Toronto architect who at the time chaired the transportation subcommittee of the city’s Civic Improvement Committee, the structure of the Bloor Viaduct has "the substance and permanence of its Beaux-Arts models – models which provided the forms of the urban planning movement of the period" (166). In other words, the Bloor Street Viaduct was a product of the City Beautiful movement of Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, and others whose aim was to redesign cities in accordance with the aesthetic principles of harmony and organic unity.

     This is not how Ondaatje presents it, however. Placed by the novel’s epigraphs from The Epic of Gilgamesh and John Berger’s G: a Novel (133) in the twin contexts of city building and recuperative working-class history, the Bloor Street Viaduct of In the Skin of a Lion is primarily a futuristic structure built by workers whose names are absent from contemporary accounts of its construction:

The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link the east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water, and electricity across the Don Valley. It will carry trains that have not even been invented yet.
Night and day. Fall light. Snow light. They are always working – horses and wagons and men arriving for work on the Danforth side at the far end of the valley.
There are over 4,000 photographs from various angles of the bridge in its time-lapse evolution. The piers sink into bedrock fifty feet below the surface through clay and shale and quicksand – 45,000 cubic yards of earth are excavated. The network of scaffolding stretches up.
Men in a maze of wooden planks climb deep into the shattered light of blond wood. A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame. Drill smoke in his hair. A cap falls into the valley, gloves are buried in stone dust.
Then the new men arrive, the "electricals," laying grids of wire across the five arches, carrying the exotic three-bowl lights, and on October 18, 1918 it is completed. Lounging in mid-air.
The bridge. The bridge. Christened "Prince Edward." The Bloor Street Viaduct. (26-27)

As described by the novel’s anarchic narrator, Patrick Lewis, the festivities surrounding the opening of the Viaduct were merely "political ceremonies" whose only memorable moments were provided by figures that, not surprisingly, reflect the novel’s underlying Bergerian and postmodern assumptions: an "anonymous" cyclist who "escaped ... through police barriers" to be first across the bridge ("[i]n the photographs he is a blur of intent" and, it hardly need be added, Heraclitean process) and "the workers" who, during the previous night, had "arrived and brushed away officials who guarded the bridge ... [and] moved ... like a wave of civilization, a net of summer insects over the valley" (27). As blatantly as in Straton’s poem a century earlier, the building of the bridge serves in Ondaatje’s novel as a pretext for social and political commentary. The Building of the Bridge and "The Bridge" section of In the Skin of a Lion differ in almost every other way, yet both surround their accounts of bridge building with celebrations of the men who did the building.

     A juxtapositioning of In the Skin of a Lion and The Building of the Bridge can only confirm Ondaatje’s stylistic brilliance but in two other respects it is less flattering. Firstly, it draws attention to the way in which, by projecting the aesthetic and ideological assumptions of the nineteen eighties onto the Edwardian period, Ondaatje’s novel breaks historical fiction’s pact of verisimilitude with the reader and, in doing so, condescends to the people of that era and provides a woefully inadequate understanding of their ideals and aims.11 Secondly, it throws into stark relief the extent to which the assumptions of postmodernism and social realism thus projected are at odds, not only with the novel’s historical subject-matter, but also with one another, postmodernism being coeval and consonant in many respects with the neoliberalism of the nineteen seventies, ’eighties, and ’nineties and social realism being, of course, the preferred aesthetic of most socialist and communist régimes in the ’thirties, ’forties, and ’fifties. The problems that flow from this ideological and aesthetic concatenation have been discussed by numerous critics12 and are unwittingly present even in the admixture of postmodern and social-realist terminology that renders almost comical the blurb on the back cover of the Penguin edition of the novel: "In the Skin of a Lion weaves real and invented histories with a moving love story....[B]oth the harsh world of labour and the magical theatre of the human heart are hauntingly entwined."

     At the "haunting" centre of "The Bridge" section of the novel, one of its principal characters, the as-yet-unnamed Macedonian construction-worker Nicholas Temelcoff, is hanging in a halter "in mid-air under the central arch" of the Viaduct at precisely the right moment to catch a nun who has been blown off the concrete slabs above by a strong wind (31). When the two are safely on the "catwalk" she, in turn, "save[s] him from falling back into space," thus generating the mutual indebtedness that undergirds one of the "invented histor[ies]" to which the cover blurb refers. Following this extraordinary – some might say, ludicrous13 – instance of a bridge as a unifying device, Lewis/Ondaatje provides a vignette of Temelcoff in which a third aesthetic thread is introduced to the weave of the novel:

Nicholas Temelcoff is famous on the bridge, a daredevil. He is given all the difficult jobs and he takes them. He descends into the air with no fear. He is a solitary.... Even in archive photographs it is difficult to find him. Again and again you see vista before you and the eye must search along the wall of sky to the speck of burned paper across the valley that is him, an exclamation mark, somewhere in the distance between bridge and river. He floats at the three hinges of the crescent-shaped steel arches. These knit the bridge together. The moment of cubism. (34)

An allusion to the title of Berger’s "The Moment of Cubism," the phrase that concludes this passage locates the construction of the Bloor Viaduct in the artistic movement of 1907-14 that Berger plausibly interprets as a momentous turn or shift in Western culture, a "moment" in the temporal, mechanical, and prophetic senses of the word at which "the promises of the future were more substantial than the present, "a "convergence" and a beginning that "defin[ed] desires which are still unmet" (5, 6, 32). Seen in this light, the Bloor Street Viaduct ceases to be the product of the Beaux-Arts aesthetic and City Beautiful movement that it, in fact, was and becomes instead a participant in the artistic endeavours that, in Berger’s words again, "constituted a revolutionary change" in Western sensibility: "[t]he concept of painting as it had existed since the Renaissance was overthrown. The idea of art holding up a mirror to nature became a nostalgic one: a means of diminishing instead of interpreting reality.... [Cubism] re-created the syntax of art so that it could accommodate modern experience" (4, 30). In short, the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct in In the Skin of a Lion is allied with a futurism that understands Modern art as an expression of unfulfillable desire – that is, as a precursor of postmodernism.

     It is now clear why Lewis/Ondaatje’s opening description of the Viaduct places far less emphasis on what it is than on what it "will" do, including "carry trains that have not even been invented yet." It is also clear why the Viaduct subsequently becomes the site of the convergence of Temelcoff and Alice in a "moment" that comes to be less important to their relationship than "moments since" (32, 49). Like the "strangely placed moment" that is Cubism itself in Berger’s analysis (5), the Bloor Street Viaduct in Ondaatje’s novel does not merely vault over Rosedale ravine and the Don valley. It vaults from an occluded past over an unsatisfying present (Lewis ultimately fails to effect change through violent action) towards a future that will always be in the process of becoming. In part a product of the Modernist fantasy of a complete rupture with the past, it is even more obviously a manifestation of the self-serving postmodernist notion that, in the words of Robert Kroetsch ("Mr. Canadian Postmodern" [Hutcheon xiv, 160]), "Canadian literature evolved directly from Victorian into Postmodern.... The country that invented Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye did so by not ever being Modern" ("A Canadian Issue" 1).

II

When the critics of the Fredericton Bridge dubbed it "Blair’s Paper Bridge" because of its wooden construction they were holding it up to ridicule through comparison to the metal bridges that by the early eighteen eighties – more than three decades after the completion of Robert Stephenson’s famous tubular plate Britannia Bridge (1846-50) over the Menai Strait in Wales14 – had become the bridges of choice for most purposes on account of their strength, durability, and modernity. Two of Canada’s earliest and most acclaimed metal bridges were the Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence at Montreal, a tubular plate structure designed by Stephenson and built between 1854 and 1860 (see Tyrell 199-200), and the Niagara Suspension Bridge (see also: i) over the Niagara River below the Falls, an iron girder and cable structure designed by John Augustus Roebling and built between 1851 and 1855 (see Tyrrell 226-27 and Stamp 21-27).15 "A bridge on the tubular principle, which will be the largest in the world, is begun," wrote the aristocratic Amelia M. Murray while visiting Montreal in September 1854; "it is to unite the town with the railroad over the St. Lawrence ... and may vie with [the] Crystal Palace in the enterprise and skill it will call forth"(60).16 A few weeks later, Murray was not quite as impressed by the Niagara Suspension Bridge, but her account of it provides a vivid picture of its innovative, two-tier design:

After dinner we took a carriage, and went over that marvellous suspension bridge, below the Falls, connecting the two shores, already open for traffic beneath, but not yet finished for the railroad cars to pass above. I felt rather glad; it was awful enough now to pass, looking down hundreds of feet upon the racing torrent below. I do not think I could endure being in a carriage upon the bridge, with a railroad train rushing over my head, yet it is constituted for, and believed capable of supporting all together. The engineer is a German. This is only a little less wonderful than the Montreal tubular construction. Many people still doubt the success of both, and consider it beyond the power of humanity to pass, as proposed, over the chasm of Niagara, or to combat the waters and ice of the St. Lawrence. Time will show. (109)

And did: the Niagara Suspension Bridge was not replaced until 1895-96 and Victoria Bridge was not rebuilt (using its original piers) until 1897-98 (see Tyrrell 340, 187).

     Although Roebling himself conceded that the two-tier structure of his bridge made it less "beautiful than a single-floor structure" would have been (Stamp 23, and see Billington 77), its aesthetic shortcomings were all but eclipsed in the eyes of most of its beholders by its technical accomplishment and by its proximity to the sublime spectacle of Niagara Falls. That "[s]omething so slight" did not "give way beneath ... so heavy" a weight as a train "seemed pure magic," and its height and form "seemed to make the whole breath-taking panorama [of the river and Falls] all the more magnificent" (David McCullough qtd. in Stamp 27). An icon of the natural sublime had been supplemented if not surmounted by an "icon of the technological sublime" (McKinsey 256), and the result was a magnet not only for tourists, but also for artists and writers, including Walt Whitman, who described the view from the train’s platform as it crossed the bridge as a "picture" that he would never forget: "[t]he falls were in plain view about a mile off.... The river tumbl[ed] green and white, far below me; the dark high banks, the plentiful umbrage, many bronze cedars, in shadow; and tempering and arching all the immense materiality, a clear sky overhead, with a few white clouds, limpid, spiritual, silent" (qtd. in McKinsey, and see Doyle 165-74). There can be no question at all that, whether seen from the shore or used as a vantage point,17 the Niagara Suspension Bridge and its wooden predecessors and metal successors in the vicinity of the Falls brought about a (Heideggerian) readjustment of perceptions and conceptions of their surroundings on all sides, not least, as Whitman’s description makes apparent, above and below.

     The Niagara Suspension Bridge also prompted thoughts in the minds of many Canadian observers about their country’s evolving relationship with the United States. On a visit to the Brock Monument sometime before 1859, Charles Sangster wrote "From Queenston Heights," a poem that begins by describing the "classic hill" and its peaceful surroundings and then proceeds to meditate upon the decisive battle that took place there in startlingly querulous and grudging tones: "What have we gained, / But a mere breath of fame, for all the blood / That flowed profusely on this stirring field? ... ’Tis true, a Victory ... ’Twere better than Defeat, a thousand times" (The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay 218). Perhaps because the 1854-66 Reciprocity Agreement between Canada and the United States was either in effect or in the offing when he wrote the poem, Sangster was less bent on commemorating a British and Canadian "Victory" in "From Queenston Heights" than in asserting the kinship of Canadians and Americans.18 Proclaiming those killed on the battlefield "brothers all, Vanquished and Victors both," he concludes the poem by focusing on the Niagara Suspension Bridge, which, as he might have known from W.H. Smith’s Canada: Past, Present, and Future (1851), was built by "a joint company of Canadians and Americans" (1:197):

     Here, where the wondrous skill
Of the mechanic, with the iron web
Has spanned the chasm, the pulse beats hopefully,
And thoughts of peace sit dove-like in the mind.
Heav’n bridge these people’s hearts, and make them one!
(St. Lawrence and the Saguenay 219)

Whereas the Brock Monument represents Canada’s military past, territorial integrity, and British connections, the Niagara Suspension Bridge is a site of diplomacy that elicits hope for a better future based on peace and co-operation between Canada and the United States. It was these and similar ideas that led to the naming of the Peace Bridge of 1925-27 between Buffalo and Fort Erie and the Ambassador Bridge (see also: i) of 1927-29 between Windsor and Detroit: the former came into being as a result in part of a movement in 1913 to commemorate the centenary of the end of the War of 1812, and the latter got its name from its principal advocate, Joseph A. Bower, who conceived of it as "‘an ambassador between the two countries’" (Stamp 81, 98).19 Nowhere is Heidegger’s conception of the bridge as both "thing" and gathering place perhaps more evident than in the bridges that "unite ... Canada and America" (St. Maur 15) across the Niagara, Detroit, St. Clair, and St. Lawrence rivers.

     That even the bridges on the Canadian-American border were capable of "express[ing] much else besides" and thus becoming symbols in Heidegger’s sense is evident in W.H. Withrow ’s response to the Niagara Suspension Bridge in our Our Own Country, Canada, Scenic and Descriptive (1889). Describing the bridge as "fairy-like," Withrow simultaneously conveys a sense of its seemingly delicate form and prepares the way for the complex conceit that follows. More than merely "a life-artery along which throbs a ceaseless pulse of commerce between the Dominion of Canada and the United States of America," the Niagara Suspension Bridge is to him a web woven by and between "the two fairest and noblest daughters of grand Old England, the great mother of nations" (338-39). As well as signifying peaceful relations between Canada and the United States, it betokens a movement towards the "Federation of the world" foretold by Tennyson in "Locksey Hall" (1842) and heralded by the amicable negotiations among Britain, the United States, and (albeit as a very junior partner) Canada that resulted in the Treaty of Washington (1873):

Unhappily, a deep and gloomy chasm has too long yawned between these neighbouring peoples, through which has raged a brawling torrent of estrangement, bitterness and sometimes even of fratricidal strife. But, as wire by wire that wondrous bridge was woven between the two countries, so social, religious and commercial intercourse has been weaving subtle cords of fellowship between the adjacent communities; and now, let us hope, by the historic treaty of Washington, a golden bridge of amity and peace has spanned the gulf, and made them one in brotherhood forever. As treason against humanity is that spirit to the deprecated that would sever one strand of those ties of friendship, or stir up strife between the two great nations of one blood, one faith, one tongue! May this peaceful arbitration be the inauguration for the happy era foretold by poet and seer –

"When the war-drum throbs no longer, and the battle-flags are furled
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world!" (339)

That bridges and poems can alike both reflect and promote the advance of civilization is implicit in this passage and becomes more apparent as Withrow extends his weaving metaphor, first into the process of writing a poem ("[w]hile I was musing on this theme...fancies wove themselves into verse") and then into the resulting poem, a Shakespearean sonnet that figures the Niagara Suspension Bridge as a "deftly woven ... iron band" analogous to the "bright golden strands" of love and friendship between nations and people(s) (340). As a work of art, Withrow’s sonnet is no more than competent, but its claims for the significance of the Niagara Suspension Bridge are among the highest made for any bridge either in Canada or on Canada’s border with the United States.

     If there is one late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century Canadian bridge that rivalled Roebling’s Niagara Suspension Bridge and Stephenson’s Victoria Bridge in fame, it is surely the cantilever bridge across the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. Conceived in the eighteen eighties and heralded during the decade of its elephantine gestation as "the longest bridge in the world," the Quebec Bridge (see also: i, ii) was to have consisted of a central span supported by two huge cantilever arms and to have constituted the "magnum opus" of the eminent American bridge engineer Theodore Cooper (1839-1919) (Petroshi 101-03). Instead, it became one of the "major bridge failures" that Henry Petroshi sees as occurring on a thirty year cycle in the West (338). Begun in 1906 with the hope that it would be completed in time for the Quebec Tercentenary celebrations in 1908, it progressed well until August 29, 1907, when its southern cantilever arm collapsed, killing seventy five people (Petroshi 104). After a Royal Commission enquiry and report, a "redesigned structure" was begun, but this too met with disaster: "while being hoisted into place" in 1916, its "closing span ... fell to the bottom of the river," killing eleven people. When it was finally completed in 1917, the Quebec Bridge had become "a symbol of Canadian resolve" (Petroshi 118) and, as the "longest span in the world until the completion of the Ambassador Bridge" in 1929, a "source of enormous pride to Canadians" (Middleton 167). In 1987, it would be nominated as an "International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" for being "the longest cantilever bridge ever built," the "‘primary symbol of Canadian engineering’," and a reflection of "‘human, professional and national values’" (qtd. in Middleton 174). For the better part of the a century, it has also been erroneously believed to be the source of the metal in the iron rings that most Canadian professional engineers wear on the little finger of their working hand as a symbol of brotherhood and as a reminder of their obligations and fallibility.20

     In very different ways, the Niagara Suspension Bridge and the Quebec Bridge collapses provide a fitting preamble to the final and most recent work to be examined in this chapter. Set on both sides of a dilapidated bridge over unnamed river on the western border between Canada and the United States, Thomas King’s Truth & Bright Water (1999) is based geographically on Sweetgrass, Montana (Truth) and Coutts, Alberta (Bright Water), with nearby Mountainview, Alberta figuring in the novel as Fairview.21 As a reference to "wolf willow" (2) in the novel’s Prologue is perhaps intended to indicate, its conception of the Canada-U.S. border as an arbitrary imposition on the prairie landscape and the Native peoples is indebted to Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow (1955), where much is made of the 49th parallel as an expression of "expedien[cy] and compromise" whose ramifications were immense for those living adjacent to it, not least the Indians (45, and see 97-98). "The 49th parallel ran directly through my childhood, dividing me in two," recalls Stegner; "[i]n winter, in the town of Whitemud [Saskatchewan], we were almost totally Canadian ... [b]ut ... [the] summer and the homestead restored us to something nearly, if not quite American.... We could not be remarkably impressed with the physical differences between Canada and the United States, for our lives slopped over the international boundary every summer day.... For all my eyes could tell me, no Line existed" (81, 82, 83). Nevertheless, Stegner further recalls, the 49th parallel "exerted uncomprehended pressures upon affiliation and belief, custom and costume" and created its own "varieties of lawbreakers, smugglers particularly," to take advantage of the fact that a frontier is a "line where one body of law stops and another body of law begins" (84, 96). In Truth & Bright Water, King has one of his Trickster figures, Monroe Swimmer, an artist bent on restoring the Prairie to at least the appearance of its pre-settlement condition, "look ... out across the river" and observe: "‘There’s Canada.... And this is the United States.... Ridiculous, isn’t it’" (140). Moreover, smuggling hospital waste (rather than cigarettes, which is no longer profitable since "‘Those asshole politicians in Canada dropped the taxes and ruined the business’" [86]) provides a lucrative side-line for the father of the novel’s narrator, a naive young resident of the Bright Water reservation whose name, Tecumseh, links him to one of the Native peoples’ most famous border-crossers. Not surprisingly, the bridge in Truth & Bright Water means in ways that are very different from those of the bridges hitherto discussed.

     When it is introduced in the Prologue, it initially recalls nineteenth-century descriptions of the Niagara Suspension Bridge, but as enchantment is dissolved by proximity it emerges as the dilapidated residue of a violent and incomplete attempt to reconnect the two banks of the river and thus (in what is here a necessary reconfiguration of Heidegger’s generalizations) to re-connect adjacent parts of the landscape that were "set off against each other" by the border (152):

At a distance, the bridge between Truth and Bright Water looks whole and complete, a pale thin line, delicate and precise, bending over the Shield and slipping back into the land like a knife. But if you walk down into the coulees and stand in the shadows of the deserted columns and the concrete arches, you can look up through the open planking and the rusting webs of iron mesh, and see the sky. (1)

Like the border itself, like the abandoned Methodist church that is then introduced, and like the railroad to which all three are spatially and metaphorically related, the bridge is an alien encrustation built in the name of economic and, in the church’s case, spiritual development. "Three years ago," Tecumseh later explains, "the new highway from Pipestone was going to pass through Truth and cross into Canada at Bright Water. The foundations for the bridge...were poured, and everyone started talking about the steady stream of tourists who would stop at the border to catch their breath" and, of course, spend their money (39).22 "The bridge was half completed when construction came to a halt," he adds, and "[t]he next day, [the crews] stretched chain-link fencing across both ends, packed up all their equipment, and disappeared. The Sacred Word Gospel people were not far behind." Abandoned before its connective work was complete, the bridge in Truth & Bright Water permits the river’s banks and, indeed, the river itself to re-appear as things that were "already there."

     That this is so emerges very clearly in a conversation between Tecumseh and his mother as they cross the river by means of a "basket-and-cable" device similar to the one designed by Charles Ellet for crossing the Niagara River in the years preceding the construction of the Niagara Suspension Bridge (see Stamp 13-20).

"This is the way everybody used to cross the river," my mother tells me as she pulls us along.
"The good old days, right?"
"When Cassie and me were girls, nobody had a car, and this was the only way to get to Truth."
The sun is behind the mountains now. The light flattens out across the prairies and the air cools. As my mother hauls us across the river, the fog rises off the Shield, thick and low, and by the time we get to the middle, the river is gone and it feels as though we’re floating above the clouds and that if we were to fall, we’d fall for years before we’d find the water.
"This ferry is a landmark," says my mother.
"Cars hadn’t been invented yet, right?"
My mother stops pulling for a moment and looks over the edge of the bucket. "It’s been here since the beginning of time," she says. "Did you know that?"
"The ferry?"
"No," she says. "The river." (53-54)

A distinct advantage of coming to this dialogue by way of Straton’s The Building of the Bridge is an enhanced recognition of the subtlety with which King aligns Tecumseh’s erroneous and thoroughly Westernized sense of history and time with a similarly Westernized and erroneous sense of place and space, and then comically shatters both with his mother’s laconic identification of the river as the true permanence in the landscape.

     In view of the seriousness of the theme of restoration that underlies many elements of Truth & Bright Water, most conspicuously Monroe Swimmer’s painting out of the church and his population of the prairie with sculptures of bison, it is only to be expected that through allusion and emphasis King continually privileges the natural over the built environment. Near the end of the Prologue, for example, attention turns away from the bridge and the church to the prairie, the appeal of which is nicely summed up in a statement – "and everywhere the air is warm and sweet" (2) – whose diction, syntax, and cadences echo and displace Stephen Leacock’s celebration of the "little town" in the Preface to Sunshine Sketches ("and everywhere the sunshine of the land of hope" [xviii]) which, in turn, endorsed Charles Dickens’ celebration of Canada as a country "full of hope and promise" (207) in his American Notes (1842). The Prologue concludes with a summary shift from architecture to nature:

     But beneath the bridge, trapped between the pale supports that rise out of the earth like dead trees and the tangle of rebar and wire that hangs from the girders like a web, the air is sharp, and the only thing that moves in the shadows is the wind. (3)

Earlier in the Prologue, the violent and destructive aspects of the bridge were only hinted at in passing in the figure of the "knife," but here it emerges as a "dead," entrapping, and potentially deadly entity that exerts a chilling and darkening effect on its surroundings. (The force that King gives to the words "the air is sharp" by setting them off from their surroundings both rhythmically and with commas is another indication of the stylistic mastery that is continually evident in Truth & Bright Water.)

     Although the bridge’s sinister qualities are evoked at various points in the course of the novel, they do not emerge fully until its final pages. There Tecumseh’s friend Lum, a young Native from the Canadian side of the border who had dreamed of winning a "running scholarship...at a big university" (6), commits suicide by running up the "curve of the bridge" towards bright Water and "disappear[ing] over the edge," taking Tecumseh’s dog Soldier with him (272). Given the novel’s earlier use of the magic-realist topos of (miraculous) re-appearance in the restorations of Monroe Swimmer, the reader might expect Lum to re-appear in a subsequent chapter, but this is not the case: Lum’s body is found "a couple of days" later by the police and his funeral is held shortly after that (274). (The fact that Soldier’s body is not found may be because, as Tecumseh suspects, the police were not "really looking for him," but it leaves open the possibility that he either survived the fall or will fulfil the re-appearance topos.)23 In the final analysis, then, the bridge in Truth & Bright Water stands in stark contrast to the other bridges examined with Heidegger’s help in this essay: a material testament to abandoned schemes and lost hopes, it does not allow "mortals ... [to] come and go from shore to shore" but serves instead as the means by which a young Native from a community that has been divided, broken, disempowered, and constructed by alien societies and cultures achieves release in self-destruction. Lum’s final act before he makes his run up the curve of the actual and the "last" bridge is to drop a skull into the river with the comment "‘Nothing to it. All you have to do is let go’" (272). Tecumseh’s final description of the bridge as he and Lum prepare to drop the skull allows it to be read as a macabre figure for the danger and destruction that face all members of a community that was once vibrant and alive but is now dead and decaying:

     The decking only goes so far before construction stops and the planks and the plywood come to an abrupt halt. From here, as far as you can see, the bridge is nothing more than a skeleton, the carcass of an enormous animal picked to the bone.
     "You smell it?" says Lum. "The whole thing’s rotting."
     From the end of the decking, you can lean out and stare through the dead openings between the ribs and see the fog boil up off the river a thousand miles below. There’s nothing to hold on to out here and the wind knows it. It grabs at my arms and legs. (270)

Annex

"Oh, I don’t know," I said. I immediately started backing up and apologising. "I mean, it’s really none of my business, I don’t know all that much about politics. Maybe you could blow up the Peace Bridge or something."
I was horrified to see that they were taking me seriously.
Margaret Atwood, Bodily Harm (1976) 261

Between the publication of Truth & Bright Water and the writing of this essay much has happened to change North Americans’ perception and conception of bridges. Whether across borders or, especially in the United States, within borders bridges have become places of fear and tension where the question of what or who "stops" or "begins ... presencing" has been lent new political, economic, and racial dimensions. Are North America’s bridges to be sites where "mortals come and go from shore to shore" without fear or hindrance, or are they to be fearful and restricted reminders of the "last bridge," "the other side" (Heidegger 153), the deathly and deadly Other? If the latter, then perhaps they do have a distant ancestor in the bridges of John Richardson’s Wacousta; or , the Prophecy, – in the "drawbridge" that "communicate[s] with the fort" but "help[s] to protect" it from the inhabitants of the forest and in the "strong wooden bridge" at the mouth off the St. Clair River that Richardson modelled on the bridge "by which the Bloody Run was ... crossed" at the time of the siege of Detroit in 1763 (63, 149, 538).24 As the novel opens, the "drawbridge" has already failed as the only means of gaining entry to the fort and the garrison is in a state of bewilderment and dread:

It was during the midnight watch, late in September, 1763, that the English garrison of Détroit, in North America, was thrown into the utmost consternation by the sudden and mysterious introduction of a stranger within its walls. The circumstance at this moment was particularly remarkable; for the period was so fearful and pregnant with events of danger, the fort being assailed on every side by a powerful and vindictive foe, that a caution and vigilance of no common kind was unceasingly exercised by the prudent governor for the safety of those committed to his charge. (24)

By the end of the novel, the wooden bridge has been the site of a vengeful collision of othernesses so destructive as to be almost nihilistic:

... Wacousta ... stood in the extreme centre of the bridge, in imposing relief against the flood [that is, lake] that glittered like a sea of glass beyond....He then advanced to the extreme edge of the bridge; and, raising the form of the female [Clara de Haldimar] far above his head with his left hand, seemed to wave her in vengeful triumph. A second warrior was seen on the bridge, and stealing cautiously to the same point. The right hand of the first warrior was now raised and brandished in the air; in the next instant it descended upon the breast of the female, who fell from his arms into the ravine beneath. Yells of triumph from the Indians, and shouts of execration from the soldiers, mingled faintly together. At that moment the arm of the second warrior was raised, and a blade was seen to glitter in the sunshine. His arm descended and Wacousta was observed to stagger forward and fall heavily into the abyss.... (524)

"[P]eople think of the bridge as primarily and really merely a bridge," wrote Heidegger, but "after that, and occasionally, it might possibly express much else besides" (153). Indeed.

Notes

  1. In Engineers of Dreams: Great American Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America, Henry Petroshi observes that the wooden truss "came in for attention as a true bridge with its discussion by Palladio in the sixteenth century" and quotes Palladio on the wooden truss as a "‘most beautiful contrivance’" (10-11, 35). He also observes that "[i]n eighteenth-century England, wooden bridges resembling Palladian designs came to be called ‘mathematical bridges,’ presumably because of the forethought and calculation that had to precede the cutting, assembling, and bolting together into an effective structure of the many different wooden pieces" (36). It is possible that the Union Bridge was partly inspired by the Craigellachie Bridge (1814) over the River Spey in Scotland, a single-span iron structure designed by Thomas Telford who is most remembered for his later suspension bridges over the straits of Conway (1822-26) and Menai (1819-26). A detailed account of the trials and tribulations that attended the construction of the chain of bridges of which the Union Bridge was the centerpiece is provided by A.H.D. Ross in Ottawa Past and Present (1927) 71-85. [back]
  2. For a rich discussion of the complexities of boundaries or borders as barriers and loci of communication see Anthony Wilden’s System and Structure, especially xxxix-xliv, 183-87, 219-23, and 324-29. [back]
  3. For details and illustrations of some wood and iron bridges in mid-nineteenth-century Canada, see Henry Grattan Tyrrell’s History of Bridge Engineering 199-200, 222-26, and elsewhere, and for further discussion of the Fredericton Bridge Harry Hagerman’s "Fredericton Bridges Hold Many Stories" and my Introduction to the electronic edition of The Building of the Bridge. Hagerman provides a quite detailed description of the Fredericton Bridge: "[t]he piers and abutments of th[e] structure, consisted of cedar-log crib-work, which were filled with stone. Otherwise the entire structure, consisting of nine double-arch truss spans, was built almost entirely of wood. In addition, on the Fredericton side, there was a swing draw span of about 150 feet. To alleviate the hazards of the annual ice runs – and to dispel the belief that the bridge would go out with the first jam – ice guards were installed on the up-river side. The fabrication consisted of hardwood planks, positioned at an angle of 45 degrees." He also observes that on August 1, 1905 "two spans near the centre of the wooden structure burned. [back]
  4. See, for example, the final sentence of the prayer "for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here on earth" in the Communion service, which reads, in part: "give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom." [back]
  5. For example, its description of the mediaeval "Brothers of the Bridge" (see 77-102 and Tyrrell 39-40). [back]
  6. Compare Straton’s "Here, where the sunken weed-mesh parts, / Wax-white lilies with golden / Sleep on the stream, – fair spirits, they, / Of wooing beams ..." (511-14) with Crawford’s description of the water lily in Malcolm’s Katie as the "‘Mild soul of the unsalted wave! / White bosom holding golden fire!’" whose "‘desire’" is to be "‘fill’d’" with love (3:183-97) and Straton’s description as a whole with Roberts’s "Ode to Drowsihood" in Orion, and Other Poems. [back]
  7. The power of bridges to alter and create such relationships is taken as a given in numerous more recent Canadian poems. In “Faust on Two Wheels, Going Like Hell” (1995) by Gary Geddes (1940- ), for example, the speaker ascends the “grade” of Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver “until [he] can watch foreign ships / ease their way into the Inner Harbour” (26) and in “Don’t mention the Word Love to Me” (1986) by Jan Conn (1952- ) the speaker “walk[s] / The length of the Granville Street Bridge” in the same city and observes a scene of “Boats in the harbour…, lit up / in a celebration that is “alien” and “mountains behind like backdrops” that are “nowhere [she] can imagine being” (56). In Rites of Alienation (1989) by Douglas Fetherling (1949- ) the Bathurst Street Bridge in Toronto provides the vantage point for a bleak urban vignette: “Through broken plant windows / rusty railyard, cold lake empty / view from the Bathurst Street bridge” (20). In Ted Plantos’s “The Lone Ranger Social Club” (1993), climbing down the “battered cross beam ties” of a “railroad bridge” over the Don River to the east of the Bathurst Street Bridge provides children first with a new perspective on the “tramping river” and then with a sense of “adventure” and danger that leaves them “stripped …of courage, / and … with nervew sweating / the last few parallel beams before ground” (19). In Robert Currie’s “Trestle Game” (1977), children are shaken and “forever / changed” by an experience on a “CP trestle” across the South Saskatchewan River (19) (and see also Currie’s “First Elegy,” “Taken,” “The Door in the Governor’s Bridge Is Open,” “Fall,” “And Again,” and “Sky Diver at the Lion’s Gate Bridge” in the same collection). See also Leslie Choyce’s “Thoughts while Watching an Oil Rig Adrift in Halifax Harbour” in his The End of Ice (1985) 51, Cyril Dabydeen’s “Capilano Suspension Bridge” in his Discussing Columbus (1997) 52-53, Mary di Michele’s “Gravity” in her Immune to Gravity (1986) 58-59, and Patrick Friesen’s “midtown bridge” in his St. Mary at Main (1998) 14. Among the numerous poems in which Canadian bridges frame a portion of the surrounding landscape or otherwise alter the way things are perceived and understood, see Geddes, “False Creek,” The Perfect Cold Warrior 16-17, George Bowering, “White, Unseen,” The Concrete Island: Montreal Poems, 1967-71 (1977) n.p., Frank Davey, “To the Lion’s Gate Bridge,” Bridge Force (1965) 13, John Donlon, “Arm’s Reach,” Green Man (1999) 71-73, Mick Burr, “The Day My Mother Called to Say My Father Died,” Dark Halo (1993) 41-42, and Marianne Bluger, “The Very Spot” and “What Happened to the Body Then,” Scissor, Paper, Woman (2000) 11 and 32. [back]
  8. Tyrrell defines a viaduct as a bridge "in which a series of longer spans are borne on individual towers composed of two or more bents braced together" (365). [back]
  9. "The following day I [Commissioner Harris] was lunching with the architect John Lyle. I told him of the ... landscapes [of which I had dreamed] and he began to laugh. ‘These are real,’ he said. ‘Where?’ I asked. ‘In Toronto.’ It turned out I was dreaming about projects for the city that had been rejected over the years. Wonderful things that were said to be too vulgar or expensive, too this, too that" (237). [back]
  10. Ondaatje erroneously describes Burke as "the bridge’s architect" (49). [back]
  11. In "Burr: the Historical Novel," Gore Vidal observes that "[w]here the novel set in history often goes wrong is when the author can’t visualize any time but his own and so imposes his own present on a different place" and relates this failure to an "inability to begin to empathize with those of a different political persuasion, not to mention country, the past into which one must feel one’s way" (40, 41). Along the same lines, John Demos observes in "Real Lives and Other Fictions: Reconsidering Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose" that an important aspect of the "verisimilitude" and "authenticity" of a "novel set in history" is "its representation of period values and attitudes" (139, 137). "Good novelists ... not only endorse historical accuracy in principle," writes Mark C. Carnes in the Introduction to the collection of essays in which these observations occur, "but [they] also pour much of the actual historical record into their work" (20). [back]
  12. See, for example, the reviews of Tom Marshall and Neil Schmitz. [back]
  13. And, some might add, overwritten: when Temelcoff catches the falling nun "his timing had been immaculate, the grace of the habit, but he found himself a moment later holding the figure against him dearly" (32). [back]
  14. The first metal bridge was, of course, Abraham Darby’s Coalbrookdale Bridge (1779) over the River Severn in England. [back]
  15. "Other interesting suspension bridges in Canada are those at St. John, New Brunswick, ...designed by... [Edward W. Serrell], and one at Montmorency Falls, Quebec. The St. John Bridge dates from 1852.... It has ten cables, and stone towers and was rebuilt in 1857. The Montmorency bridge ... collapsed some years ago ..., and only the stone towers now remain. The old Chaudiere highway suspension bridge over the Ottawa bridge at Ottawa...was removed in 1888" (Tyrrell 224-25). Amelia M. Murray describes the last as "handsome" (93). As Elizabeth McKinsey observes, the Niagara Suspension Bridge was Roebling’s "proving ground" for his later "masterpiece," Brooklyn Bridge (1869-83) (253, and see also David McCullough, The Great Bridge and Alan Trachtenberg, Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol). [back]
  16. Robert M. Stamp records that the Victoria Bridge was known for a long time as the "eighth wonder of the world" (53). A detailed account of its design and construction can be found in Charles Legge’s A Glance at Victoria Bridge and the Men who Built It (1860), which is usefully supplemented in the section on "Travel and Transportation" in The Dominion of Canada (1869) 257-65 by H.Y. Hind and others and by the section on "The Victoria Bridges" in William Henry Atherton’s Montreal 2: 612-15, which includes two quotations that will appeal to anyone with an interest in perceptions of Canada and manifestations of Canadian identity: Robert Stephenson’s remark in 1853 that when he visited Canada "‘twenty-five years before ... the St. Lawrence seemed to be like the sea, and [he] certainly never thought of bridging it’" and George Étienne Cartier’s response to a question from Queen Victoria about the length of the bridge in feet: "‘When we Canadians build a bridge and dedicate it to Your Majesty we measure it, not in feet, but in miles’" (2: 613, 614). In "The Spirit of Place," Douglas Richardson describes the Victoria Bridge as "a work of sublime proportions" but considers it "the most eloquent expression of the malevolent turn that the genius loci sometimes takes in this country, " observing that its "tube of 25 spans extending 6,592 feet with approaches of almost two miles" was "a traveller’s nightmare in the age of steam and smoke" because it had "scarcely any ventilation or lighting" (27). Although opened to traffic late in 1859, the Victoria Bridge was not dedicated by the Prince of Wales until August 25, 1860, at which time Harper’s Weekly published engravings showing it in all its massive glory and festooned with lights for the Prince’s visit. See also Raymond Filip, “Common Grave: Point St. Charles” (1978) 14 for the Victoria Bridge as “Montreal’s first footpath to bestride the tide, / straight as an Iroquois arrow, / … solid as the Royal Bank,” and “built upon the backs of foreigners / who burned their bridges behind them….” [back]
  17. In the Tour of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales through British America and the United States (1860), "A British Canadian" records that during the Prince’s visit to the Niagara Suspension Bridge "the royal car ... crossed to [its] centre, whence the visitor had a capital view of the Falls" (188). [back]
  18. Sangster’s reconciliatory tone may also be a function of the desire to sell The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay, and Other Poems to American tourists as well as to Canadians (see Bentley, "Introduction," The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay xl-l). [back]
  19. See Stamp 26 and 93 for reproductions of the postage stamps that were issued for the centenary of the Niagara Suspension Bridge in 1948 and the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Bridge in 1977. The caption on the former, an American stamp, reads "A Century of Friendship/United States-Canada." In two poems in Public Fantasy (1983), “Photo Session” and “Maggie T. Zaps the Heretics,” C.H. Gervais (1946- ), the Ambassador Bridge makes fanciful appearances, in the former as parallel to “Maggie T”’s “partying to ragtime / & stepping high above the twin cities” of Windsor and Detroit and in the latter as part of a fantasy in which she declares herself to be a “TOURIST ATTRACTION,” proclaiming “Let me tell you how / The river cuts thru / me until / I am exposed / & one with the / stars / & around me I bend / & clasp the Ambassador Bridge so it sparkles / around my waist …” (49-50, 33). [back]
  20. I am grateful to Mike Bartlett of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Western Ontario for discussing the significance of the iron ring with me and for allowing me to raid his library for books on bridges and bridge engineers. See David McFadden, “Crossing Second Narrows Bridge in an Old Blue Morris Minor” in The Art of Darkness (1984) 99-100 for a meditation on the collapse in 1959, during its construction, of the Vancouver bridge of the poem’s title, a disaster that plunged “twenty-three workers to their cursed deaths / in the twisted metal of Burrard Inlet.” “Memories are made of this” observes McFadden, “And the bogus bridge-builders are all around us. / It’s no longer worthwhile to build a good bridge / unless you do it so furtively / no one will know what you are doing.” [back]
  21. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that King’s Bright Water is also based on Stegner’s Whitemud or that such passages as the following lie behind his conception of Truth and Bright Water: "[w]e bought supplies in Harlem or Chinook, and got our mail at Hydro, all in Montana. In the fall we hauled our wheat...freely and I suppose illegally across the Milk River towns and sold it where it was handiest to sell. Even yet, between Willow Creek and Treelon, a degree and a half of longitude, there is not a single settlement or a custom station" (83). In an interview with Jennifer Andrews in December 1999, King stated that what he finds "compelling about borders" is the fact that "there is one. The fact that right in the middle of this perfectly contiguous landscape someone has drawn a line and on one side it’s Canadian and therefore very different from the side that is American. Borders are...very artificial and subjective barriers that we throw up around our lives in all sorts of different ways. National borders are just indicative of the kinds of borders we build around ourselves" (172). In the same interview, King observes that the bridge in Truth & Bright Water "indicates this border" as does the river "[b]ut the characters ignore it. They ignore it the same way they ignore the bridge ... [which] itself is a Picture of Dorian Gray kind of structure "that symbolizes" the "deteriorat[ion]" of "relationships between people ... races and ... countries. It won’t hold the weight of people trying to cross back and forth" (172-73). [back]
  22. See Stamp 86-93 and elsewhere for cross-border bridges as conduits for tourists and boosts to the local Canadian economy. [back]
  23. "I walk the river bank from the bridge to the flat, just like the night Lum and Soldier and I went searching for the woman" who turned out to be Monroe Swimmer in disguise, Tecumseh later states. "I don’t expect to find Soldier alive, but I am happy that no one has found his body either. There’s always the chance that he survived the fall but was injured and lost his memory, and that one day he’ll remember and come home" (277). [back]
  24. The reference to "Bloody Run" is in Richardson’s Introduction to the 1832 edition of the novel. In the Introduction to the 1832 edition he refers to the bridge as "‘Bloody Bridge’" (22). [back]