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Plan an autumn visit to the Uno Trestle Bridge

The trestle is impressive and it has an interesting history

For an interesting spot to visit this fall, take a drive to the Uno Trestle Bridge in western Manitoba. The trestle is a very impressive sight, the scenery well worth the trip and, for history buffs, the 1915 disaster at this site is of further interest.

The present-day Uno bridge is 1,533 feet long, a structure supported by steel trestles and spanning the Minnewasta Creek, shortly before it joins the Assiniboine River. This bridge is on the CNR main line, so trains cross it frequently, usually every hour or less. That includes the Via Rail passenger train, which uses this track on its regular run. There is also a double line just to the west of the bridge, for trains to meet and pass. Any train stopping to wait for another will necessarily be travelling slowly as it crosses which makes for a good opportunity for camera buffs to snap some photos.

The present-day steel structure was constructed in 1929, but the original wooden pile and frame trestle was built in 1907 on the main line of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR). That bridge was slightly longer at 1,573 feet in length and stood 115 feet at its highest. It had only been in use a few years before it was destroyed on September 2, 1915 by a tornado that struck about 2 a.m. Half an hour later, with the storm still raging, and in heavy rainfall, an eastbound freight train approached. It is believed that the engineer, J.C. Files, realized that the bridge was wrecked, but stayed in an attempt to stop the train. Fortunately, the couplers broke, so only the engine, tender and one car went over the edge but Files went over with them, taking him to his death. The rest of the train stayed on the track. The fireman, Hugh McKay, managed to jump at the last minute, and had only minor injuries.

The trestle is an impressive sight.
photo: Gamache Photos

Because this was the main line of the GTPR, restoring the bridge was a necessity, and began almost at once. (While the bridge was being reconstructed, the GTP trains were rerouted over CPR lines, via Minnedosa.) Gangs of workers were brought in, and an emergency supply of timber was brought from Rivers. Using the existing piles, the trestle was rebuilt in a mere 25 days. By September 27, trains were once more crossing the bridge, although at a reduced speed. By October 12, 1915 the new bridge was in full use, and continued until 1929 when it was replaced by the present-day steel structure.

Visitors to the trestle bridge today can watch from below as trains pass over the structure, or can drive up closer to the track and peer across the bridge. Today the track is owned by the Canadian National Railway (CNR) which took over the GTPR in 1923, after its financial collapse.

To reach the Uno bridge, follow Highway No. 83 to the village of Beulah. From there, drive two miles west on K Hill Road, then half a mile south on Road 158W, one mile west on 85N, and one mile south on 159W. This will bring you to Uno, now just one house, but with a sign stating that this was once the site of the Uno store and post office. Cross the railway tracks there and turn left. The bridge is about a kilometre farther along definitely worth the meandering drive to get there. (If you enjoy this type of exploration, it is worthwhile to purchase Backroad Mapbook ─ Manitoba guide that has maps with all the mile roads, available at many bookstores or highway gas stops.)

A different way to view the Uno bridge (but more costly) would be to take a Via Rail train ride. Passengers claim that they feel as if they are floating in mid-air while crossing the valley on the trestle bridge.

For more pictures, including historical ones from 1915 showing the wrecked wooden bridge, go to the Manitoba Historical Society website.

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