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Grand Forks’ North Fork bridges

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

I’ve always been fond of the postcard of Grand Forks seen below. It shows Golden Heights, the city’s most famous residence, built in 1898 by Dr. G.W. Averill, the Black Hawk livery stable, and the old bridge over the north fork of the Kettle River.

The structure was generally known as the Bridge Street bridge (Bridge Street has since renamed Market Avenue), but also called the North Fork bridge, and the Yale bridge, probably because the original Yale Hotel was a landmark near the bridge’s west end.


The bridge appeared to date to 1903, replacing an earlier structure. A “North Fork” bridge and a “bridge over Kettle River” are first mentioned in The Advance on May 31, 1894:

The bridge over Kettle River built by the settlers last winter does credit to their knowledge of the art of bridge building. It has stood the test of timber jams extending the full length of the span …
The approach to the North Fork bridge, with the rise of the water in that river, is again getting in a bad state …

But I don’t know if these references are to the same bridge or two different ones, or their exact locations.


Bridge Street itself was around by 1896, but the first mention of the “Bridge Street bridge” is from 1903, when Grand Forks city council discussed repairing it. One alderman thought a new bridge could be built for $400 or $500, and that both the farmers across the river and the owners of the Granby smelter should contribute something to it, since they stood to benefit.


Much to council’s delight, the provincial government said it would kick in $500 toward rebuilding the bridge and the smelter agreed to another $100. The contract was awarded in August 1903 to Knapp and Addison for $575. They were only given a couple of weeks to complete the job, along with instructions that traffic over the bridge could not be stopped for more than four days.


Not surprisingly, perhaps, the contractors were unable to finish on time, and came to city council seeking a 15-day extension, due to difficulties getting the promised materials on the ground. They also sought permission to close the bridge for more than four days. One of the unsuccessful bidders, a Mr. Creits, insisted the contractors be held to their agreement of forfeit their bonds. Council granted the extension but insisted on the four day closure.


A few weeks later, Knapp was back before council seeking another extension. The aldermen grumbled a bit but adjourned without giving an answer. The rebuild appears to have finished by early October, but come in over budget at $715. Addison and Knapp offered the city 1,500 feet of leftover bridge plank, which they accepted.


The beefed-up bridge was put to an early test in September 1904, as the Grand Forks Sun explained.

One of Porter Bros. teams came very near getting a free bath in the North Fork yesterday morning. While hauling a heavily loaded wagon across the Bridge Street bridge, two of the planks broke under the load, but as the horses had reached terra firma on the opposite bank, they managed, with a little extra exertion, to get the load on dry land also. Bridge building is Porter Bros.’ business, and they soon had the structure repaired.

City council believed, however, that Porter Bros.’ load was unreasonably heavy, and reckless given that they had recently posted a notice and told the company that 6,000 pounds was the limit. The mayor was asked to seek further restitution from them for the damage.

The original Yale Hotel is seen at the west end of the bridge in this detail from a postcard produced sometime before July 10, 1908 when a massive fire wiped out many buildings.

Detail view of a ca. 1908 postcard showing the Black Hawk livery stable at left.

The large building in the centre is the second Province Hotel, built in 1909.

Another postcard view of the bridge from 1909 or later, showing the vacant lot where the Yale Hotel once stood.


By 1913, the bridge was deemed unsafe for traffic and a “use at your own risk” sign was posted. City council set a crew to work repairing it while making plans for a new structure. According to the Nelson Daily News of Sept. 10, 1913: “The present bridge was built some 20 years ago. Plans and estimates will be asked for at once and work on the new structure will probably be started this fall.” It was to have concrete approaches and two concrete piers in the centre.


However, they held out for a provincial government contribution, which was not forthcoming. The bridge was re-planked in 1915, thanks to a donation of labour by the Granby Co.


There was nothing further until 1918, where Sue Adrain of the Boundary Community Archives located several references in the city council minutes. First, the board of works inspected the bridge (now referred to as the Yale bridge) and found it in poor condition, particularly the south pier.


Temporary repairs were ordered while the provincial government and Granby Co. were approached to help pay for a new structure. The mayor met with a provincial engineer, who “while not condemning the bridge, thought the sooner a new bridge was erected the better.”


Two more years went by. Bridge Street was designated a primary road under the Highways Act of 1920, meaning the province was now responsible for three-quarters of the cost of maintenance. Council saw another opportunity for a new bridge, at a cost of about $7,500, and urged the province to get going.


At the end of the year, the city identified the following route as the main highway:

The main road from eastern municipal boundary in DL 493, thence to Yale Bridge, thence along Bridge Street to First Street, thence to Winnipeg Avenue, thence by Winnipeg and (West) Victoria Avenue to Pine Street, thence in direct line to present crossing of VV&E Railway and Government Avenue, adjoining Block 12, Map 69, thence along Government Avenue to present government highway at western municipal boundary.

(Bridge Street is now Market Avenue, First Street is now Second Street, and Winnipeg Avenue is now Central Avenue.)


Finally, in 1921 the provincial government agreed to build a new bridge and a contractor named Bonthron got to work. This new bridge, a single span supported with embedded concrete piers, opened to traffic — including motor vehicles — in January 1922.


At the time, the Sun reported: “The old bridge which was a landmark of pioneer days, having been constructed over 25 years ago, has been dismantled.” The Grand Forks Gazette added that the old bridge “was being dismantled by the public works department and the wood set aside to be given to charity.”


This second bridge was in use until 1957, when the current steel Yale bridge (also known as the Winnipeg Avenue bridge) was completed one block north.

Grand Forks Gazette, March 14, 1957


This third bridge has stood the test of time — and of dynamite and fire. It survived a pair of crude bombs placed underneath both girders at its west end in 1961. There was little damage other than one foot-and-a-half-long plate being blown off a brace and another brace being slightly bent.


In 2005, a transport truck loaded with copper sulphate struck the bridge and burst into flame. The driver was killed. The bridge was closed for more than 18 hours during the clean-up, but suffered no structural damage.


In 1965, a new suspension bridge, seen below, was built near the site of the original Yale/First Street bridge to carry a pipeline but it is not open to traffic of any kind.

— With thanks to Sue Adrain, Boundary Community Archives, and Christopher Stevenson

Updated on April 13, 2021 to add details about the 1913 bridge replacement plans and on April 28, 2021 with details from the 1918-21 city council minutes and on Aug. 10, 2021 to correct my confusion over the Bridge Street bridge versus the First Street bridge, which I had conflated as one.

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