Landmark N.B. covered bridge to be demolished and replaced

Landmark N.B. covered bridge to be demolished and replaced

by Sue Jones
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The Vaughan Creek covered bridge in St. Martins, N.B., was built in 1935 and has been closed to traffic for several years after inspections found it unsafe for heavy traffic.

St Martins Covered Bridge

The Vaughan Creek Bridge will be removed by crews this week, as the province of New Brunswick begins construction on a replacement. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

One of New Brunswick’s most iconic covered bridges will be removed this week, following a lengthy fight by heritage advocates to protect it.

The Vaughan Creek covered bridge in St. Martins was built in 1935 and has been closed to traffic for several years after inspections found it unsafe for heavy traffic. 

The Covered Bridges Conservation Association of New Brunswick advocated keeping the bridge in the village, about 46 kilometres east of Saint John on the Bay of Fundy. 

“We’re rather disappointed,” said Ray Boucher, the association’s president. “We’re sorry to see it go, of course, but the new timber bridge is a good compromise.”

In January, the provincial government announced plans to replace the bridge with a two-lane structure designed to resemble the current one.

It will replace a temporary one-lane steel bridge, which was put in place for several years as a temporary solution.

The construction of the new timber bridge will begin in October, and is set to be completed in the summer of 2022, depending on weather, according to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

New Vaughan Creek Bridge

From left, Environment and Climate Change Minister Gary Crossman, Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister Tammy Scott-Wallace and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green unveil the plans for the new Vaughan Creek bridge. (Government of New Brunswick)

Spokesperson Mark Taylor said various options were considered, including the modern version of a covered bridge and a concrete bridge with a wood cover. 

“Building such a large structure out of wood is new to New Brunswick and complex in nature,” he said.

The current covered bridge, with a single lane, faced challenges in accommodating modern traffic. Tour buses heading to the nearby sea caves and Fundy Trail Parkway will be able to use the new structure, along with commercial trucks.

‘There’s two sides’

Residents of St. Martins had been rallying to save the Vaughan Creek Bridge over the past few years. Two thirds of the village, home to about 300 residents, signed a petition in favour of protecting the landmark.

The conservation association launched a letter-writing campaign and held a rally in 2019.

When the bridge closed to traffic, it became a gathering place for the community during the holidays. Food vendors and a Christmas tree filled the space instead. 

Vaughan Creek Bridge

The Vaughan Creek Bridge is one of two covered bridges in St. Martins. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Tabitha Chatterton started the tradition and attended the rally to save it. She was opposed to plans for a metal or concrete bridge, but welcomes the plan for a modern covered bridge with two lanes.

“People don’t really like change, they want things to stay and keep their heritage,” she said. “We’re still keeping part of our heritage.

“There’s two sides. Those that are looking forward to the new bridge and then those that are really opposed to it. They want to keep the bridge that we have — [but] it’s just not safe.

“There’s a divide, for sure.”

Preserving the facade

When crews begin taking down the covered bridge this week, the facade will be saved and provided to the Village of St. Martins. It will be placed in a nearby park to commemorate the landmark.

The location of the iconic bridge is one of a kind. It’s the only spot in the world where you can take a photo with two covered bridges and a lighthouse. Vaughan Creek is just down the road from Hardscrabble Bridge No. 2, which was built later in 1946.

Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge In St Martins 2021 2

The Vaughan Creek covered bridge in January 2021. (Graham Thomson/CBC)

New Brunswick is home to 58 covered bridges, including 54 maintained by the province. 

Boucher with the conservation association said there needs to be a renewed effort to maintain them.

“They are a rarity. They are an engineering marvel, if you really stop and think about how they were built,” he said.

“It’s a part of our history, it’s a part of our heritage and for us, at least, it’s something that should be preserved.”

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