History of Alexandra Bridge and Hells Gate in the Fraser Canyon Trans-Canada in BC
The Alexandra Bridge is a steel arch-span bridge crossing the Fraser River 1km north of Spuzzum (39 km north of Hope). It is the third structure (built 1960 to 1964) named the Alexandra Bridge, and was part of BC Highways modernization of roads and bridges.
The Nlaka'pamux and Sto:lo First Nations have inhabited the area for over 9000 years, and the first white persons to the area was Simon Fraser and his crew during their 1808 expedition down the Fraser Canyon.
The original road bridge was constructed in 1861 as part of the development of the Cariboo Road using native and Chinese labour, when BC was still a colony). The Cariboo Road ran from Fort Yale to Barkerville in the Cariboo Gold fields, via Lillooet to Clinton, 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, Lac La Hache, 150 Mile House.
The bridge was named for Princess Alexandra of Wales (the wife of Queen Victoria's eldest son, who would become Edward VII). The first bridge was rebuilt by the Royal Engineers as construction of the Cariboo Road progressed, with the newer span opening in 1863, but the rebuilt bridge was destroyed by the rising waters of the Fraser Flood of 1892 and not rebuilt because new railways superceded the Cariboo Road.
The automotive era saw a reinvestment in roads, including the re-opening of the Cariboo Highway in the Fraser Canyon in the 1920s. The new 1926 suspension bridge used the original bridge footings but placed the deck ten feet higher. This second Alexandra Suspension Bridge still exists today, though hasn't carried automobile traffic since 1964.
The current Alexandra Bridge was constructed by the B.C. Ministry of Highways in 1960-64, is approximately two kilometres (one mile) downstream and uses a high truss-arch span to cross the canyon.
The prior bridge is part of the 55 ha (136 acre) Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park established in 1984 to celebrate the original Cariboo Wagon Road bridge over the Fraser River. There are picnic tables (but no camping) accessible from a parking lot on the east side of the Fraser, and includes the old portion of the pre-modernization Cariboo Highway.
This spot marks a narrowing of the Fraser River into a steep-walled canyon, immediately downstream of Boston Bar in the southern Fraser Canyon.
In the 1880s the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) built a transcontinental railroad that passed along the bank at Hells Gate, and in 1911 the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) began constructing its track above the Fraser River. In 1914 a large rockslide triggered by the CNR construction fell into the river at Hells Gate.
This caused a 5-meter vertical drop in water depth and increased water velocity from five cubic meters per second to 6.75m/second, obstructing the passage of spawning Pacific salmon needing to swim. Concrete fish ladders were built to help the salmon navigate this very important salmon river.
Just off the highway, you can hike to the "Hollywood Bowl" which is concrete structure that supports & stabilizes the Trans-Canada Highway (there's a ladder to a high vantage point, to climb, if you dare!)
Hells Gate Airtram opened in 1971, and drops from their parking lot of the Trans-Canada Highway to descend to the opposite side of Fraser River where they have a pedestrian suspension bridge, an observation deck, a restaurant, a gift They have two cabins that can carry 25 people each, that diagonally travel 341 m (1118 ft) and drop 157 m (515 ft) on track ropes of 40 mm diameter.
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