Thunder Bay

James Street Swing Bridge reopening to vehicular traffic after 6-year closure

The James Street Swing Bridge will reopen to traffic on Saturday morning, more than six years after being closed following a fire.
The James Street Swing Bridge will reopen to vehicular traffic on Saturday. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

The century-old James Street Swing Bridge will reopen, more than six years after being closed to vehicular traffic following a fire.

The CN Rail-owned span is expected to reopen to vehicular and pedestrian traffic in both directions on Saturday morning, the rail company confirmed.

The bridge, which connects Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation across the Kaministiquia River, had been closed since a blaze broke out on the northern approach spans on Oct. 29, 2013, though trains resumed crossing later that week.

A lengthy legal battle ensued over the following years. 

The City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation argued that a 1906 agreement over the bridge's construction required the railway to maintain the span in perpetuity. CN countered that it had fulfilled its obligations and the bridge, which had primarily been built for horse and cart traffic, no longer met modern standards and would require work more substantial than just maintenance.

After the Ontario Superior Court of Justice initially ruled in CN's favour, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned that decision and ordered the railway to reopen the bridge. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ultimately dismissed CN's leave to appeal.

"CN is pleased that the bridge is reopening and that this important road link in Thunder Bay is once again accessible to the public," said Olivier Chouc, CN's vice president of law, in a written statement.

CN officials said the width of the vehicle lanes will remain the same. The bridge will have a speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour and a weight restriction of 15,000 kilograms. The sidewalk has been widened, with a protective barrier between the vehicle lanes and the walkway. The handrail has been modified to a height of 1.4 metres.

Thunder Bay mayor Bill Mauro, in a city-issued news release, said he is pleased the bridge will be back open.

"We recognize the challenges and frustrations citizens from both communities have faced without this access point," Mauro said. "CN, as directed by the highest court in Ontario, has fulfilled their obligation to repair the bridge and we can now move forward as more connected communities."