Updated: Jan 27, 2020
We knew, however, who decided on the colour: Jack Kelsall (1924-2009), a Silverton native who worked as a traffic engineer in Prince George, New Denver, Grand Forks, and Revelstoke, then as provincial bridge inspection engineer in Victoria before settling in Nelson in 1969.
His obituary revealed: “Jack never boasted, so it’s not widely known that he made the decision, as part of his job duties, to paint the Nelson bridge orange. Controversial at the time, the Big Orange Bridge has become a symbol of Nelson.”
I’m pleased to report that I’ve pinned down the date. This ad from the Vancouver Province of June 25, 1969 shows the project going to tender.
Touchstones archivist J.P. Stienne found this in the Nelson Daily News of Aug. 28, 1969:
But the work was not finished in 1969. We know this thanks to a remarkable slide that sold on eBay a while back. Although it wasn’t the main subject of the photo, in the background you can see the bridge is perhaps three-quarters orange, with a bit yet to be covered. Some people recall purple being used as a primer coat, and indeed, the unfinished part does look purplish. The slide is dated July 1970.
Just in case the slide date was in error, I checked the Nelson Daily News and was able to come up with one item of corroboration, seen below, from the edition of June 22, 1970.
So the work actually took place in 1969 and 1970, although I am not sure what the delay was. For several months at least, the bridge would have been part orange, part silver, as seen in the slide.
I couldn’t find any mention of the controversy alluded to in Kelsall’s obituary, but his daughter was able to provide some valuable insight.
While several other photos of the bridge appeared in the newspaper in the summer of 1970, they’re all in black and white, so it’s hard to tell when the paint job was finally completed.
As for when the structure started to be referred to as the “Big Orange Bridge,” the earliest printed reference is from February 2000. More about that here: https://www.castlegarnews.com/community/place-names-the-trail-butte-connection/
Don’t believe anyone who tells you the bridge will soon be panted green.
Updated on Jan. 18, 2019 to correct the fact that the work began in 1969, not 1970.