Bridges of Woolwich Township
The main waterways in Woolwich Township are the Grand River (a Canadian Heritage River), the Conestogo River, Canagagigue Creek, Cox Creek, and Hopewell Creek. The first people needing to cross these waters had to ford them with horses, wagons and buggies.
In the mid-1800s, almost half of the business conducted by Woolwich Township Council focused on the construction and improvement of roads and bridges. Bridges were often washed away during spring flooding and had to be replaced regularly. Protecting wooden bridges from damage caused by the pounding of horses' hooves was also a concern, and a by-law was passed stating that anyone riding or driving a horse faster than a walk on bridges over thirty feet long would be subjected to a fine if convicted.
There are still many bridges in Woolwich Township; some old, some new, some abandoned. Most of our bridges are of modern construction.
Winterbourne Bridge - Peel Street, Winterbourne (opened in 1913)
With its lacy riveted steel frame of side trusses, cross beams and sway braces, this bridge stands majestically 14-feet high above the Grand River. Fishermen, canoeing enthusiasts, hikers and horse & buggy travelers enjoy this romantic and scenic bridge. It is a two-span single-lane structure supported by three concrete pier abutments. The bridge is 333 feet long with a 10 tonne load limit. At one time, the decking was wood planking, sometimes dubbed a rumble bridge. Today the deck is made up of 2 x 4 spruce laminated on edge. Steel beams and wooden nailers hold the wood in place.
Built in 1913, this bridge is a rural survivor; even though steel bridges are on their way out because of aging, load limits, and other factors, we hope that this steel bridge will continue to serve this area. The roads in the Winterbourne Valley are surrounded by impeccably-kept Old Order Mennonite farms, and since the farms can be accessed from either side of the bridge it is not likely to be replaced.
The Mennonite Buggy Bridge, St. Jacobs (opened in 1962)
This seven-span concrete low level bridge is located west of the Village of St. Jacobs on Woolwich Township Road 21. The bridge is adjacent to the St. Jacobs Dam. The first dam on this site was built in the 1840s to provide power for a sawmill. The wooden dam was later replaced by a concrete structure. The one-lane road surface is only about two feet above the normal river level, and since the river floods each year, there are no railings on the bridge.
The current bridge was built in 1962 by members of the Old Order Mennonite community for a cost of $2500; all of the labour was provided by volunteers. The bridge was designed so water and ice would not do any damage during flooding. Other bridges constructed on this site had been washed away or damaged by high waters.
If you visit this bridge today and see that the orange gates are closed, it means that water is flowing over the bridge surface. The gates were installed after a dramatic rescue of a young couple who had been swept off the bridge by fast flowing waters while crossing in a horse-drawn buggy.
St. Jacobs Viaduct - The Railway Bridge, St. Jacobs (opened in the 1890s)
The idea of a railway connecting Waterloo and Elmira was talked about for many years. To move the project forward, Woolwich Township offered a $5000 grant to a railway company to extend a branch line to Elmira however, when completed in 1882, the line stopped in Waterloo. In 1889, another offer was made to the Waterloo Junction Railway Company to extend their rail line to Elmira. Woolwich Township offered a bonus of $28,000 and Elmira offered $10,000 on the condition this line would be completed by December 1, 1891 and one train would run each day.
Building the two-span railway viaduct over the Conestogo River was the most expensive part of the railroad construction. The quarried limestone blocks used in the bridge abutments were hauled by team and wagon.
For the best view of the bridge, walk along the Mill Race in St. Jacobs.