There was a very special Canada 150 event last weekend, as a new historical plaque was unveiled at the Andrewsville Bridge, along with a wooden bench which will allow visitors to relax and enjoy a wonderful vista up the Rideau River. It was an especially sweet moment for the Friends of the Andrewsville Bridge [FAB], who had worked long and hard to ensure that the bridge remained open intact for many years to come. Ever since 2007, the bridge had been threatened with closure and was in grave need of maintenance. This led residents on both sides of the river to band together and campaign to save the bridge.
The bridge is one of last remains of the village of Andrewsville, once a thriving centre of milling and an important crossing point on the Rideau River and Canal. Named after Rufus Andrews, who took possession of the land in 1847, by the 1870’s the village contained a wool carding mill and cloth dressing operation, as well as a village store and a tavern/hotel. A blacksmith, an essential element in the village economy in those days, manufactured agricultural implements, horse shoes, and made repairs on metalwork for residents. These numbered around 200, and a daily stage connected Andrewsville to both Kemptville and Merrickville.
But by around 1900, the population had dwindled and the village was entering its last decline. It was at this time that the current bridge was built, to replace an older wooden structure. The saw mill was converted to provide electricity, which powered Kemptville for about thirty years. The power plant was operated by Alonzo Bowen of Kemptville until he sold it to the Kemptville Milling Company, which continued to generate power until 1929. Attempts had been made to have the operation taken over by the new Ontario Hydro, but without success, and the plant could not compete.
But the bridge is much more than an important heritage artifact. Closure of the bridge would have added greatly to the pressures on the bridges at Merrickville and Burritt’s Rapids, and is an important crossing for emergency services, as well as local residents. Its value to heritage tourism on the World Heritage site that is the Rideau Canal makes a real economic contribution to the local economy.
All of these arguments were used by FAB in their long fight to save the bridge from closure. Winning the support of the municipalities on both sides of the river, FAB petitioned councils and the United Counties. Finally, in April, 2016, Lanark County passed a Resolution “THAT, contingent upon the agreement of the Council of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Lanark County agrees to provide a maximum of $60,000, to be matched by funding from the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville over a twelve year period, commencing November 2016, to allow traffic, under 5 tonnes in weight, on the Andrewsville Bridge.”
In July of last year, the United Counties Leeds & Grenville adopted these recommendations and “recommends matching the commitment of Lanark County Council of a maximum of $60,000 over a twelve year period”. It was further agreed to limit traffic over the bridge to vehicles under 5 tonnes, and to spend $20,000 to make necessary repairs to the bridge.
FAB had won a great victory for the people of Montague and Merrickville-Wolford, and for all those who valued both the heritage and economic importance of the bridge. The plaque unveiled last Saturday will inform future visitors of the history of a lost village, and the people who once lived there. It is a source of pride to those still living in the homes north of the bridge, and the bench looks out over the weir and the remains of the dam structures, more reminders of days past in Andrewsville.
The speakers at the unveiling represented all levels of government: Mayor David Nash of Merrickville-Wolford, Bill Dobson Reeve of Montague, Randy Hillier MPP and Gord Brown MP. All paid tribute to FAB and their achievement and noted the importance of people coming together to achieve things for their community. People Power at work.
Congratulations to FAB and the people on both sides of the Rideau for preserving such a wonderful part of their combined history.