SUBMITTED BY ROBYN GILLAM
None of the them could mistaken for an actual bridge, but the phantom overpasses along Strachan Street and at Wellington and Ferrie can stir the imagination. Catherine Street rises up across the linear park as though it were about to take off over the railway line, before ending in a metal barrier. The remains of a raised walkway on Sawyer Street are practically all that remains of the approach to a bridge that once spanned the level crossing on Wellington, connecting with Ferrie on the other side. While the Mary St. bridge did not actually vanish, it became a pedestrian way, with the road bridge shifted to Ferguson in 2008.
The bridges at Hughson and Catherine Streets disappeared in the Sixties, along with the houses on the south side of Strachan, removed to accommodate a perimeter road around the city that was never built. The approach to the Catherine street bridge is framed by shrubs and trees that grow over its handrails, but the Hughson Street bridge entry is almost concealed in the layout of the Strachan and James car park. The bridge at Ferrie and Wellington was built around 1903 at the request of the residents, who are concerned about the safety of the level crossing. It disappeared so long ago that few North Enders are left who can remember the sound of cars driving across its wooden planks. A 1970 Spectator article about Hamilton bridges describes how its construction gives“an unnerving reminder” of past bridge design. The accompanying photograph shows the plank surface divided into road and footpath by what look like old railway ties with the crooked wooden handrails stretching off into the distance. Not surprisingly, the bridge had to be closed for repairs in 1974.
While the Wellington Street bridge disappeared after a long, gradual deterioration, the abrupt removal of those on Hughson and Catherine streets was part of an upheaval that was supposed to make space for the Perimeter Road. It included the eviction of residents from their homes on the south side of Strachan, and their demolition, which began in 1965 . As a result, when North Enders were faced with the possibility of the loss of the Mary Street bridge, they expressed concern about loss of accessibility and isolation. While pedestrian bridge was a less disruptive compromise than a new road bridge, it recalled for many the experience of expropriation and loss for the purpose of a road that was never built. North Enders value their unique location and identity, but resist isolation and exploitation. The presence of the vanished bridges, like the tree that has grown around the railings of the Catherine Street bridge, reminds us that the community is adaptive, but also resilient.
The author would like to thank the staff at the Local History and Archives Department of the Hamilton Public Library for their assistance in researching this article. Don’t forget to contact us with your ideas for stories about intriguing local landmarks.