The history of Saskatoon's Traffic Bridge

A large bang over the weekend echoed throughout the city as the Traffic Bridge fell onto the South Saskatchewan River.

The bridge opened in 1907 to the songs of local school children

The Traffic Bridge waits to be broken apart after being blown off its piers in the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

A large bang over the weekend echoed throughout the city as the Traffic Bridge fell onto the South Saskatchewan River. It was the final chapter in a turbulent history for the century-old structure.

Explosive charges separate two sections of the Traffic Bridge in Saskatoon from its piers. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)


Construction begins on the Traffic Bridge


In a view from Nutana, a horse-drawn wagon is stopped on the long hill in the foreground. Three street cars are crossing the Traffic Bridge in the middle ground. The Quaker Oats mill (far left) and St. Paul's Hospital (centre) are on the skyline, beyond the Canadian Northern Railway Bridge in the background. (Photograph PH-2014-302 by Leonard Hillyard courtesy Saskatoon Public Library - Local History Room)

The Traffic Bridge, also known as Victoria Bridge, officially opened on Oct. 10, 1907. It cost $106,000 and was paid for by the provincial government.

It was the city's first bridge specifically designed for foot and vehicle traffic and was built to connect the people of Nutana to downtown. According to the City of Saskatoon, the promise of the bridge was key to Nutana's agreement to join with the west side communities of Saskatoon and Riversdale in forming the city in 1906.

Before the bridge was built, the ferry and the railway bridge were the only ways to cross the river.

Local students commemorated the bridge's opening by singing a song composed for the occasion, according to the book From a little stone school by Lorraine Blashill.

"Yes, we are from Saskatoon,
The railway centre, famed far and near.
And proudly now we sing her praises,
To let her know that her friends are here."


The S.S. City of Medicine Hat struck the Saskatoon Traffic Bridge in 1908. (Archive image courtesy of the Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room)

The Traffic Bridge was the site of Saskatoon's only maritime disaster.

The steamship S.S. City of Medicine Hat crashed into one of the bridge's concrete piers and sank. All people on board were able to swim ashore.

The 130-foot steamship, which was powered by a single boiler, sat at the bottom of the river for 98 years, undiscovered. Although some wreckage was salvaged by people in the city and most now resides in local museums.


A streetcar on the Traffic Bridge in 1940. (Photograph LH-5324 courtesy Saskatoon Public Library - Local History Room.)

A streetcar derailed when it slid off ice-covered tracks trying to turn onto the bridge. The road, now Saskatchewan Crescent, was difficult for transportation to maneuver. Streetcar lines were eventually rerouted to the Broadway Bridge in 1933.


Looking North along west side of Traffic Bridge, showing the bridge raised by blocks on top of the preexisting piers. The skyline of downtown can be seen in the background in 1966. (Photograph QC-4115-1 by CFQC staff courtesy of Saskatoon Public Library - Local History Room. )

The southern end of the bridge is raised to reduce the slope and improve traffic flow. It also allowed Saskatchewan Crescent to pass underneath. At this time, the bridge carried about 10,000 vehicles per day.


The Traffic Bridge got a paint job. But soon after the bridge began closing periodically for refurbishments and adjustments to make the road wider as vehicles changed.

Early 1990s

Bridge is closed a few times after vehicles that were too heavy and large drive across.

2005 to 2006

The Traffic Bridge was closed to vehicles because of corrosion and safety concerns, but is stayed open to pedestrians and bikes. After repairs, it was reopened in September 2006.


Two members of Saskatoon Fire Services found a large anchor in the river while dive rescue training in August. That spawned search and recovery dives to find more. It turned out to be the S.S City of Medicine Hat steamship.

A documentary was made about the discovery. The documentary titled The Last Steamship: The Search for the S.S. City of Medicine Hat premiered in 2010, but searchers did not find any significant wreckage.


A shot of the lights on the Traffic Bridge before they were taken down. (Peter Mills/CBC)

The bridge was given decorative LED lights over the summer that could change colour and move in different patterns. The lights cost the city $462,000 and continue to cause conversation.

But the community development manager at Meewasin Valley Authority, Doug Porteous, said the lights actually meant the city became aware of safety issues.

"I remember when they put those lights on there back in 2007. The person that did it from the city took a little flak because of the expense or something," Porteous said. 

"But it was the joggers running across the bridge that were causing the light strands to kind of disconnect, from the shaking. That alerted the engineers to the fact there might be a problem there because that's where it first kind of came up that maybe we should be looking at this bridge to see if it's compromised with the weight and that kind of thing."


In August, the Traffic Bridge was closed due to public safety concerns as a result of advanced deterioration of critical structural elements.


The project involves both the replacement of the 107-year-old Traffic Bridge and the development of the North Commuter Parkway. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Stantec archeologists resumed the search for the ship wreck while the city was drilling to test the pier of the Traffic Bridge. They found a wooden structure and a variety of artifacts including ceramic tableware, silverware, and personal items like boots and buttons dated to the turn of the 20th century.

This was also the year demolition first began on May 28. The pedestrian access ramp on the south side was removed and the first span was severed from the bridge.


Traffic Bridge proposed design concept. (City of Saskatoon)

The City of Saskatoon reaches a deal with Graham Commuter Partners to build a new Traffic Bridge and a north commuter bridge as a P3 project.


A plume of smoke shoots out from the berm after Saskatoon's Traffic Bridge falls onto it. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)

Thousands of people lined the Broadway Bridge in Saskatoon Sunday morning to watch as explosive charges on the old Traffic Bridge in Saskatoon blew off two of its sections.

The first phase of the Traffic Bridge's demolition started with a bang


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