New museum exhibit focuses on bridges past and present

CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall skyline will undergo a monumental shift in the months ahead, as a new low-level bridge will take the place of the Seaway International Bridge.

For decades the existing bridge, with its arching superstructure, has been synonymous with the Seaway City.

That will all change later this year when a new low-level bridge opens, which will pave the way for the demolition of the 60-year-old structure that today connects the city with Cornwall Island.

The Cornwall Community Museum has debuted a new exhibit that takes a look back at the connections, and conveyances, used over the last 200 years to cross the mighty St. Lawrence River.

Sara Lauzon, museum exhibit co-ordinator, told Seaway News there was one common theme throughout the years.

“Pride, to be honest,” she said. “A lot of people who come through here and see the exhibit – their eyes just light up.

“They have family members and others they knew who helped work on the bridge and built this or that.”

Officially, crossing the St. Lawrence River began in 1799 when David McCeun used a bateau and two canoes to help people cross the river.

But it wasn’t until the late 1800s that construction would begin in earnest on a bridge to help Cornwall and area residents make the trek south to Cornwall Island.

The story of the first-ever Cornwall bridge ended in disaster, when workers were nearing the end of construction on Sept. 6, 1898 and one of the piers literally disappeared into the rushing waters of the river – causing two bridge spans to collapse.

Fifteen workers, said Lauzon, lost their lives. Six of whom are buried in two Cornwall cemeteries.

The second Cornwall bridge didn’t fare much better – it collapsed 10 years later in June, 1908, but thankfully no one was killed.

The Roosevelt Swing Bridge was completed in 1934, and quickly became iconic because a small section would pivot to allow for the transit of ships on the Cornwall Canal.

The existing bridge opened in 1962, and its trademark arch was built high over the water in the event the federal government proceeded with an all-Canadian seaway.

Lauzon said the history of Cornwall is tied to development on the St. Lawrence River and subsequently its bridges.

“There have been a lot of happy events,” she said, pointing to bridge openings and the like. The museum has displayed the scissors used to cut ribbons during various bridge openings.

She has also highlighted successful operations by the Cornwall Community Police Service to talk people off the bridge who were considering jumping.

The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lauzon said the exhibit will be on display for much of the summer.

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