Former Prince of Wales Bridge gets renamed, and $14M in city funding

Residents are one step closer to being able to walk, cycle and perhaps even cross-country ski across the Ottawa River at Bayview Station after council voted Wednesday to commit $14 million to rehabilitate the bridge, and rename it Chief William Commanda Bridge.

Interprovincial crossing will now be named Chief William Commanda Bridge

Council has approved the immediate renaming of the former Prince of Wales Bridge as the Chief William Commanda Bridge. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Residents are one step closer to being able to walk, cycle and perhaps even cross-country ski across the Ottawa River at Bayview Station after Ottawa city council voted to help pay to rehabilitate the bridge, as well as rename it.

City councillors voted to immediately rename the interprovincial crossing, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Bridge, to the Chief William Commanda Bridge, and commit $14 million on fixing the bridge.

Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, who expressed concerns over the price tag of the project, was the only councillor to dissent on Mayor Jim Watson's motion to fund and rename the former Prince of Wales Bridge.

"This is simply going to be a huge tourism draw in Ottawa," said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who represents the ward that includes the bridge, and who seconded the mayor's motion.

"It will be a four-season gem, recreationally, in the city and it's really going to be a really key part of our transportation network for active transportation, bringing people safely back and forth to Gatineau."

Project to cost $22.6M

The city bought the rail bridge from Canadian Pacific Railway in 2005 to be used as a transit link between Ottawa and Gatineau sometime in the future. But that might be a long way off, in part because Gatineau is planning for its future tram to cross the river using the nearby Portage Bridge.

Turning the 1.3-kilometre bridge into a multi-use pathway for foot traffic will cost a total of $22.5 million: $12.1 million for the path itself, including beefed-up railings, LED lighting and a few benches; and $10.4 million to restore the piers holding up the bridge.

Sneaking onto the bridge has always held allure for some residents. Tragically, two people have died in as many as years after swimming off the bridge. It's not yet clear if or how the retrofit will discourage people from jumping into the river below.

Of the money committed to fixing the bridge, $5 million will be set aside for the pier work, which was already budgeted for. On Wednesday council approved an additional $9 million to the plan, which came from development charge and transit reserve funds.

In the coming days, the federal government is expected to announce it is funding the remaining $8.6 million. Local MP and Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, who recently announced she's not running for re-election, made reopening the bridge a campaign promise in 2019.

The project should go out to tender this summer, at which point city officials should have a better idea of when it might be completed.

Residents have long advocated for access to the iconic iron bridge, such as at this sing-along protest in 2016. (CBC News)

New name part of reconciliation efforts

William Commanda served as Chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation from 1951 to 1970.

Commanda was also a well-known Algonquin elder in the Ottawa area for many years. In 2008, he was awarded the Order of Canada. 

The mayor said the renaming is part of the city's reconciliation efforts and told council Wednesday he had consulted with a number of elders in the region — including Claudette Commanda, William's granddaughter — who supported the renaming.

Council also agreed to earmark $94,000 for Indigenous public art, and for the tender to include a requirement for the successful bidder to engage Indigenous contractors and labourers on the multi-million-dollar project.