Hartland Bridge marks first century

Make a wish, take a deep breath and hold it. If you can make it all the way across the Hartland covered bridge, your wish is supposed to come true. That's one of the stories associated with the 100 year old bridge that marked its birthday July 4.

People from all over Canada have come to see the world's longest covered bridge, a national heritage site.

"You can't help but walk across the Hartland bridge and feel some sense of romance, " says Mac Kelly, who moved to Hartland nine years ago. He loves the bridge so much he opened a museum to honour it.

And what makes him so sure it's the longest in the world?

"In 1931 there was a delegation that came from Norway thinking that their bridge was the longest covered bridge in the world and they measured it and theirs fell short by 200 feet," he answers.

The bridge officially opened on July 4, 1901. People who lived on both sides of the Saint John River needed one long before that but couldn't convince the government to spend the money. So they raised the cash and built it themselves.

When the bridge opened, people paid a toll to get across. It was cheap, just three cents for a person and half a cent for a sheep, but it meant a tollkeeper had to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. To keep him comfortable, the designers put an outhouse right in the middle of the bridge

But there's more to covered bridges than practical matters. They also inspire romance.

"It's a kissing bridge," says John Glass, who co-authored a book about the bridge. "The story goes that young fellows would borrow, like today, they'd borrow their father's car, then they borrowed the horse and buggy and they'd train the horse to stop midway across the bridge and steal a kiss or two."

The Hartland Bridge might be the longest and possibly the oldest but it's also one the last. Fifty years ago, 300 covered bridges spanned New Brunswick rivers. Today, there are only 65.