Narrow bridges

The Two Forgotten Bridges of Halifax Harbor

According to historian Blair Beed, more than 130 years ago, during the Victorian era of the 1880s and 1890s, it was a busy time for Halifax during the boom of the industrial age.

“So they really needed more transport links and they chose rail as the way to do that,” Beed said. “A bridge over the narrow part of the harbor was the way to do it.”

At first, the bridge was a great success.

“It was a busy bridge,” said Beed, who added that some Indigenous people at the time didn’t approve of the structure.

Based on 19th century tradition, a curse was placed on the port and on the bridge.

“Three times he will rise and thrice will fall,” Beed said of the supposed curse. “The first with wind, the second with silence and the third with a lot of blood.”

The first bridge disappeared in a major storm in 1891. It was replaced by a second bridge which sank quietly into the ocean in the dark of night in 1893. There were no injuries or lives lost.

The A Murray Mackay Bridge was built on the same site as the first two that were washed away.

“The Macdonald is the third built,” Beed said. “They actually brought in a leader and lifted the curse at that time, in 1955.”

Dartmouth historian David Jones pointed out that many still refer to the two structures as the “old” and “new” bridges.

“We can now talk about the old, old bridge and the old, old, old bridge,” Jones said.

Jones said there is also a historical connection between Dartmouth and the building of the first railway bridge.

“The first Harbor Bridge in 1884 was actually made by Starr Manufacturing here in downtown Dartmouth,” Jones said. “It’s the company that’s known around the world for making skates.”

Starr Manufacturing, Jones said, provided the steel for the first of two long-lost railroad bridges in the port.