Manitoulin Island's historic Little Current Swing Bridge could be replaced

The sun is setting on the century-old swing bridge that links mainland Ontario to Manitoulin Island.

Consulting firm working on the future of the bridge will consult the public, do a "heritage assessment"

Boats wait for the Little Current Swing Bridge to swing open so they can proceed. According to the website for Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, the bridge "sits 17.5 feet above the water, and provides a 160 foot opening on either side of the central pier for water passage ... [and has] been designated an Ontario Heritage site." (Yvon Theriault/CBC- Radio Canada)

The sun is setting on the iconic century-old swing bridge that spans the North Channel between mainland Ontario and Manitoulin Island. 

After more than 100 years, the single-lane bridge might have to make way for a new, safer structure to carry traffic to the town of Little Current.

Ministry of Transportation spokesman Gordan Rennie said it was built in 1913 by the Algoma Eastern Railway to carry rail traffic to the island. Cars started to use it in the 1940's.

"Over the last 15 years, we have done a number of things to try and modernize the equipment that controls the bridge and keep the parts in good shape," said Rennie. 

The province has hired Stantec Consulting to conduct a planning and design study and environmental assessment.

He adds the consultants will gather background information and collect feedback from the public before any decision is made.

"We do know that the existing structure is nearing the end of its service life. What could be done with that will be considered as part of the process, but it'll consider the historical heritage assessment, as well as future transportation needs," he said.

At the end of two years, said Rennie, Stantec will deliver a recommended plan and design proposal that will consider cultural, environmental, economic and safety issues.

"It is an old bridge. Obviously it's got a lot of character and a lot of history on the island, but at the same time, it's the only highway link to Manitoulin Island and so its important that we make sure that we've got a plan going into the future that we continue to have that highway link," said Rennie.

Public consultation hasn't yet been scheduled.

with files from Angela Gemmill