A swaying way home: Exploring the often-hidden footbridges of New Brunswick

·4 min read
The McNamee-Priceville Footbridge across the Southwest Miramichi River is the largest footbridge owned and maintained by the province. It's 200 metres long and less than a metre wide. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
The McNamee-Priceville Footbridge across the Southwest Miramichi River is the largest footbridge owned and maintained by the province. It's 200 metres long and less than a metre wide. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)

On a grey December morning, Darrell Ruttle lugs a snowblower across a 100-metre-long footbridge as the Hammond River rushes far below.

The bridge sways a bit in the wind and under the moving weight, but it's of no concern to Ruttle. He's been crossing the bridge connecting his family home to the rest world since he was a child. .

"This is the only easy access," he said.

There's no road to the Ruttle homestead, where his sister, Fern Craig, still lives today. Just an old trail coming over Mount Prospect and accessible only by ATVs and snowmobiles.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Yeoman's Footbridge, about 42 kilometres northeast of Saint John, was originally built in the 1940s with help from Ruttle's stepfather, Harold Yeoman, so the family didn't have to row across the brook to get home.

Three decades ago, Ruttle said, the province offered to upgrade the bridge.

"The government approached my parents at that time and asked if they could build a new bridge, and they would do all the maintenance, and in exchange they would use it as a tourist attraction," said Ruttle.

The family took the offer, and the bridge was replaced by the suspension bridge in place today. It's a lot more stable than the old bridge, and tourists are generally respectful of it.

"We used to sic our dogs on the people that would shake the bridge because we were on the hook for repairs then" said Ruttle. "But the government is now, so they can shake it to pieces and the government will come and fix it."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Yeoman's Footbridge is just one of a series of footbridges still spanning rivers and brooks in New Brunswick.

According to the province's website, six footbridges are still being maintained by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, although one bridge, across the Big Salmon River, has been handed over to the care of the Fundy Parkway.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

In Port Elgin, a 40-metre-long, truss-style wooden bridge spans the mouth of the Gaspereau River, giving residents a shorter route from the eastern side of the community to Main Street that, where the post office and pharmacy are. It has been in place since 1968.

A 45-metre-long steel footbridge crosses the Kouchibouguac River in Kent County.

The remainder of the bridges are cable suspension bridges, like Yeoman's Footbridge, ranging from 83 to 200 metres in length.

"The province is full of interesting structures that we may have forgotten about, but they're definitely part of our history," said Mark Taylor, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. "We're fortunate that some of these footbridges still exist."

Taylor does caution that while the bridges are owned by the province, the lands they connect sometimes aren't.

"If people do want to enjoy them, we just ask that people be respectful of the area that they're in," he said.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

The Kilpatrick Footbridge spans the Hammond River about 10 kilometres upstream from Yeoman's Footbridge. Nathan Soucy, who owns the land on the northern side of the Kilpatrick bridge, said sightseers often mistake his driveway, and his lawn, for the access point to the bridge.

Four years ago, when he bought the property, Soucy was warned by his neighbour across the river that tourists would be oblivious to his property and start to leave a mess. He was warned to set up signs as a deterrent.

"I wasn't going to be that guy," Soucy said. "But now I'm that guy."

Every summer, he has to put up signs to discourage people from using his driveway to get to the bridge.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

The province does encourage sightseers to visit the most impressive of the remaining footbridges.

The McNamee-Priceville bridge is less than a metre wide, but it spans 200 metres across the southern branch of the Miramichi River. Open to the public year-round the footbridge has two spans, linked in the centre by a support tower.

But it's not for the faint of heart. Hanging several metres above the river, the bridge will sway in the wind, and during the winter, the wooden floorboards can creak loudly.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Despite the harrowing crossing, Taylor said, this footbridge, like all bridges, is inspected and maintained on a regular basis. It's rated for up to 10 people crossing at any time.

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