Streetcar History - High Level Bridge


Early in 1903 the engineers of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway (C & ER), which had reached Strathcona in 1891, began surveys for a possible crossing of the North Saskatchewan River to reach Edmonton. In early May of 1903 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) purchased the C & ER so any new railroad bridge would be built by CPR.

Negotiations among CPR, Edmonton, Strathcona and Alberta were lengthy and it was not until November 30, 1909 that an agreement was signed. Initial plans called merely for a railway bridge but Strathcona pushed for a combined rail and road bridge. The final agreement included a road and sidewalk deck below the railroad and streetcar deck.

HLB under construction
The erecting traveler that moves on the rails at the extreme edge of the top deck of The High Level Bridge has completed the bridge framework to the last concrete pier on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River. The five wooden falsework supports between piers three and four support the steel until all rivets are in place to hold the steel framework together.
ŠProvincial Archives of Alberta, B3311

Construction for the 62 foundations of the land piers and four river piers began on August 14, 1910. Construction of the piers was completed in 1911 and erection of the steel commenced almost immediately from the south side. Early in 1913 the steel reached the north side. On June 2, 1913 the first CPR passenger train steamed into Edmonton over the newly completed structure. The first streetcar crossed the bridge on August 11, 1913.

Steam train on HLB
A CPR steam train traverses the High Level Bridge on its way to Calgary.
ŠAllan Muir Collection

Some interesting numbers

Final cost: exceeded $2 million
Length: 755 m (2,478 ft)
Width: 13 m (43 ft)
Steel: approximately 1 million ft
Rivets: almost 1.4 million
Concrete: 25 thousand barrels
Paint: 22750 litres (5,000 gallons)
Top deck: approximately 49 m (160 ft) above low water

Streetcar #40 on the bridge
Edmonton 40 starts across The High Level Bridge northbound on the "wrong side". As a safety measure the streetcars crossed over to the "opposite" side at each end of the bridge so that if a car failed or some other emergency arose, passengers could exit from the doors on the right side of the car on to the bridge deck rather than into empty space! The narrow pair of rails in the center of each of the three tracks are safety rails to prevent cars from leaving the bridge deck in a derailment.
ŠProvincial Archives of Alberta, GS193/2

Streetcar traffic across the bridge was terminated on September 1, 1951 with the abandonment of the streetcar system. After a few years, the streetcar tracks across the bridge were removed, while the railway track saw further use until the 1980s. Luckily, it was never lifted and serves today as right-of-way for the High Level Bridge Streetcar service provided by the Edmonton Radial Railway Society. Furthermore, the disused poles for the overhead wires were left in situ too; at present they are holding the span wires for the re-erected overhead.

Museum streetcar service across the bridge from Strathcona to Grandin started in 1997 with an extension opened to Jasper Avenue in 2005. The service operates from May until October and carries over 90,000 passengers per year (as of 2019).