This morning at 10 a.m. a small opening day ceremony was held at Duchesnay Creek Bridge. Chief Scott McLeod was there, as were most councillors from Nipissing First Nation (NFN).
Representatives from Miller Paving Limited (Miller) were on site, as were the work crew, who spent over two years on the project after the bridge was closed due to structural concerns in January 2019.
“This bridge represents more than an infrastructure project to Nipissing First Nation,” Chief McLeod said.
“It not only connects our residents and businesses to those of our neighbours, but it also represents a new way of doing business that has created new opportunities for our First Nation.”
Costing $12 million, the province fully funded development and construction, and awarded the work contract to the Nipissing-Miller Partnership, “a joint venture in which Nipissing has a majority stake,” explained Gen Couchie, communications officer for NFN in a recent release.
Ontario’s support of Nipissing-Miller’s proposal marked “a significant change in the way of doing business,” Chief McLeod said, and served as “a step toward reconciliation,” and one that created “real economic opportunities” for NFN.
“As we all know the bridge itself is historical,” Chief McLeod said. Built in 1937, to replace a previous structure, the bridge was deemed historically significant under the Ontario Heritage Act for being the last timber bridge remaining in Ontario.
The new bridge reflects that history, as all the girders and beams are wood.
And although historically significant, Chief McLeod clarified this history goes much further—"Duchesnay creek has been crossed for thousands of years by our people.”
“So when we look at the bridge being historic, it’s historic in a colonized way, meaning that’s its only 150 years old, but our people have been crossing this creek for millennia.”
“And I think that’s important to know,” he emphasized, adding that not only is the bridge historically significant, but the contract being awarded to Nipissing-Miller also marked a historical moment.
“First Nations have historically been shut out of opportunities to participate in infrastructure projects such as this bridge, so this new approach to creating opportunity, for improving skills and development and job creation is ground-breaking.”
McLeod then mentioned NFN is “grateful to the province” and Vic Fedeli “for supporting this opportunity for our First Nation to fully participate in the local economy, especially on a project that is immediately adjacent to our community.”
He clarified that Nipissing-Miller have partnered together for the past 15 years, and this bridge marks the fruition of that, adding that he has no doubts they “will continue to grow and yield benefits for our community and those around us.”
“The partnership has been a great success,” said Chris O’Reilly, a manager with Miller Paving.
“This project was challenging,” he added, “and as a team we had numerous hurdles to overcome prior to even breaking ground,” yet despite the hurdles, “our team never put the brakes on.”
“We tackled demolition in frigid winter weather, and our first summer construction season was riddled with manpower shortages, Covid delays, and implementing new measures to protect everyone on our team.”
Despite the challenges, the crew forged on, and NFN has released two videos on their YouTube channel documenting the construction process from the beginning stages.
Overall, the project was completed “only a few days later than the anticipated contract completion date,” O’Reilly said, adding that “it has been a pleasure working with our First Nation partners, and we look forward to many endeavours in the future.”
Chief McLeod thanked the work crew, “for their dedication, and all the long hours,” as “too often the credit goes to politicians, and people who do the planning,” and sometimes the people doing the work are overlooked.
“I really appreciate it,” he said.
With the bridge complete and open for traffic, the Nipissing-Miller crew is working to complete phase two of the project between Highway 17 and Couchie Memorial Drive.
This work includes creating a new entrance to Duchesnay Village, removing the abandoned CN Rail overpass, and shaving down the hill to improve driver sightlines.
“The successful completion of this first project solidifies our partnership,” Couchie said, “and paves the way for future growth and opportunities for the mutual benefit of both partners and the community.”
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca