If you’re looking for new outdoor spots to explore in southern Manitoba during this time of ‘keeping apart,’ consider a drive or two to search out some of Manitoba’s suspension bridges.
Probably our best-known suspension bridge is the one in Souris, famous as the longest swinging pedestrian bridge in Canada. The original bridge was built in 1904 by William Henry (‘The Squire’) Sowden. The townsite was on the west side of the Souris River but Sowden owned land across the river. He wanted easy access to the town and hoped to subdivide the east side and make it more attractive to buyers. This first bridge was a simple structure and soon needed reinforcement. After Sowden died in 1907, the bridge was given to the village.
Over the years, the swinging bridge was re-inforced several times — in 1907, 1961 and 1974 — and had to be completely rebuilt twice after floods. The 1976 flood swept the whole bridge away, while during the 2011 flood the cables were intentionally cut to prevent further damage.
The newest bridge was completed in August 2013 and is 184 metres long (604 feet) from tip to tip. The cost was $3.9 million. The new bridge is not as swingy as previous models but can still be deliberately bounced, so if swinging bothers you, you might prefer to walk across when others are not doing so. It is wide enough for wheelchair access. There is no charge, although a donation box is provided.
The Souris Swinging Bridge is classed as a Manitoba Historic Site. For pictures showing older versions and some of the present bridge lit up at night, visit this page at sourismanitoba.com.
Another suspension bridge of historical interest is the Senkiw Swinging Bridge located in southeast Manitoba, south of St. Malo in the RM of Emerson-Franklin. It was built by pioneers in 1946 over the Roseau River, mainly so children from south of the river could attend school on the north side. Before the bridge was built, a hand- powered basket and pulley system had been used, since 1916, but this was difficult for children to manage and sometimes resulted in pinched fingers.
A sign near the bridge states that it is a cable suspension bridge “constructed using old threshing machine concaves and walking plow frames” — an early example of recycling. The flood of 1950 caused considerable damage to the structure and major repairs were required. It was used on a daily basis into the 1960s, but after Senkiw School closed in 1964 the bridge gradually deteriorated.
Some 30 years later, interest in the bridge was revived as a link in the Trans-Canada Trail system. In 2000 it was designated a Municipal Heritage Site and volunteers began restoration work. One money-raising project involved selling
bridge planks. The new Senkiw Bridge was officially opened in 2005 and is now part of the Crow Wing Trail (Chemin Saint-Paul).
To reach the Senkiw Bridge there are two access points, with access point A the easier one. Travel south from St. Malo on PTH 59 about 11 miles (18 km) to the first road south of the Roseau River. Turn west (right) on Road 12N and drive three miles. At the swinging bridge sign turn north (right) for 1-1/2 miles. Then turn east (right) onto Cable Bridge Bay and drive about one-quarter mile to the bridge sign. A short hike (less than a quarter-mile) brings you to the bridge. Due to steps and a short, steep slope, this bridge is not wheelchair accessible.
Access point B includes a longer hike. If you prefer that, directions are found at this page at trailsmanitoba.ca.
Southeastern Manitoba is home to at least two other suspension bridges worth exploring. One crosses the Whiteshell River near the Nutimik Lake Campground in Whiteshell Park. Part of the Whiteshell River Bridges Trail (4.2 km, in and out), it starts behind the campground and leads to a wide set of rapids called Sturgeon Falls. This bridge, 86 metres in length, was built in 2010.
Another interesting bridge is the Pinawa Heritage Suspension Bridge, located north of the Pinawa Cemetery on a branch of the Trans-Canada Trail. A metre wide and 54 metres long, it crosses the Pinawa Channel. Hikers enjoy this bridge and cross-country skiers use it in winter. Volunteers, organized by the Pinawa Trails Group, built it, with completion in the fall of 1998. A covered picnic site is provided.
These bridges are all worth visiting in any season, but colourful autumn foliage will make them even more scenic. Why not plan a day trip or two during the next few weeks?