The James Street Bridge – An Overview

The James Street Bridge remains closed to train, vehicle and pedestrian traffic
The James Street Bridge remains closed to vehicle traffic

Putting a Human Face on a Bridge Delayed too Far

THUNDER BAY – It has been over five years since the James Street Bridge caught fire and was closed to vehicle traffic. Over that five years, there have been delays in getting first responders onto Fort William First Nation.

What is disappointing is that as time goes along, the cost of fighting to keep the bridge closed keep adding up. Accidents along the ten-kilometre detour have taken lives, accidents have injured people. Likely the death-toll would be greater, but advanced life support efforts today help keep people alive.

The dollars spent fighting to keep the bridge closed are dollars most would feel would be better spent getting the roadway open again.

Thunder Bay Police image of motor vehicle accident on Mission Road
Thunder Bay Police image of motor vehicle accident on Mission Road

Efforts to re-open this vital transportation link have dragged on for years. There have been many efforts to convince the rail company to step up their efforts.

In December 2014 there was an effort by children impacted by the bridge closure to appeal to CN Rail, an effort the company never responded to.

In July CN said that in terms of the appeal, that the company is looking for guidance. That guidance from the courts led to the decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal released on November 16, 2018 James Street Bridge.

CN said, “As for the matter of the appeal, the company is seeking guidance from the Courts on the scope of its obligations under the 1906 Agreement. Absent any court action, CN is moving forward with the process to make the bridge safe for modern vehicle traffic”

“CN remains open and available to discuss this and other options with all stakeholders.”

In July, Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs told NetNewsLedger, “I would like to learn from CN when they figure was the last time they spoke to the Mayor or Council or our Administration about repairs to the bridge. They have been in talks with FWFN about the bridge. May I remind CN that the 1906 agreement is between the City and CN not CN and FWFN”.

“CN needs to talk to the City about opening the bridge. Furthermore, the fact that CN hasn’t had their engineers working up a plan to open the bridge or contracted anyone to do the work in the days after the fire amplifies the fact that CN had no intention of ever opening the bridge. Now that the Ontario Court of Appeal has spoken loud and clear, CN needs to approach the City, not FWFN, with a plan and path forward. The City, of course, will share any plan with FWFN as good neighbours do.”

There is yet another effort to put a human face on the bridge closure. That is the video featured atop this article.

This particular video features the lyrics and concept of Jack Belhumeur accompanied by the music of Jayven Meekis and arranged and mixed by Benjamin Murray (Planbstrik9) lyrics by (in order of appearance) Jamie Labrador (Chorus and intro/outro) Jayven Meekis (first verse) B the Wiz – Brandon Rodegheiro (second verse first half) Mc OCO – Cody Desmoulin (second verse second half) and Planbstrik9 – Benjamin Murray (last verse).

This video was produced in cooperation with YAAP (Youth Arts Ambassador Program) and the many sponsors for the city of Thunder Bay’s Culture Week festivities.

It was premiered at Magnus theatre on the 29th of September 2018.

Ben Murray says, “It tells the tale of two communities tied together through families and hardships, suffering and prosperity. The bridge linking Fort William First Nation was burned and made inoperable several years back and since that time there has been an ongoing dispute between the CN rail the city and Fort William First Nation about who foots the bill for a new bridge”.

“In that time people have lost their lives due to the re-routing of traffic onto highway 61.

“This very symbolic event, the burning of the bridge gave us a perfect vessel to convey our feeling about race, culture, equality, justice and unity for all of us here on Earth. The video was filmed over several weeks in several locations including a youth workshop at the Evergreen United youth center and on location at the bridge in question”.

Perhaps as this effort continues, now with the latest Ontario Court of Appeal decision CN Rail can stop “seeking guidance” and simply do what is right.

In the long run, what is needed is a new bridge. What might be the most fitting would be for the Federal Government, Provincial Government, Fort William First Nation and the City of Thunder Bay to start the planning for a new bridge.

A great connection might be as a Syndicate Avenue extension that would lead right into the busines park on Fort William First Nation.

James Murray