Reversing Falls Bridges

Where: Saint John, NB.

Engineer: Edward W. Serrell

Date of construction: 1915

Reversing Falls Bridges: steel cantilever railway bridge, left, steel deck truss road bridge, centre, earlier suspension road bridge, right. Isaac Erb & Son photograph, 1915. (Source: New Brunswick Museum: X11369)

Site Location: Lat.: 45° – 15’ – 37” N; Long. 66° – 5’ – 40” W. (GPS 45.2602132, -66.0944696). Take the NB-100 exit, Exit 119A-B on the Trans-Canada Highway 1 toward Catherwood St/Reversing Falls/Rue Catherwood. After 0.3 km, at the Lancaster Mall, 0.3 km, turn right onto Fundy Coastal Drive/River Valley Scenic Drive/Raynes Blvd/NB-100. Continue for 0.9 km and find parking at the Reversing Falls Restaurant lot, on the right just before the bridge.

Plaque Location: The plaque is currently in storage at City Hall in Saint John.

The foundation of one of the 1853 suspension bridge towers is now part of the foundation of the Reversing Falls Restaurant, and features the names of the engineer and builder. (Source: k100.ca)

Description: Two roadway and two railway bridges have spanned Reversing Falls at this location. A suspension bridge with a 190 m. span, built by William K. Reynolds, carried road traffic from 1853 to 1915. British-born Edward W. Serrell, by then a resident of the United States, was the designer and construction supervisor. In 1915 it was replaced by the present highway bridge, initially designed as a two-hinged braced-spandrel arch by C. C. Schneider but redesigned to facilitate erection and simplify dead load stress computations as a three-hinged arch by Philip Louis Pratley, then on staff of the Dominion Bridge Co. Ltd. A steel cantilever-type railway bridge, with a total length, including the approach trestle, of 372 m. and a main span of 145 m opened in 1885. It was designed by Job Abbott, President of the Dominion Bridge Company and approved by P.S. Archibald, Chief Engineer of the Intercolonial Railway Company. In 1921, it was replaced by the existing railway bridge.

Construction of the railway cantilever with the suspension bridge in the background, ca.1885. (Source: johnwood1946.wordpress.com)

Railway cantilever opening, July 1885. (Source: johnwood1946.wordpress.com)

Historic Significance: The suspension bridge was a very early, and substantial, example of this form in Canada. Pratley’s replacement was the largest steel spandrel arch bridge in the world at that time, and his 1918 paper presenting a detailed mathematical analysis of the design and erection scheme was awarded the Telford Gold Medal by the British Institution of Civil Engineers. Abbott’s steel cantilever was one of the earliest contracts secured by the then-fledgling Dominion Bridge Company and, requiring 4050 tonnes (4485 tons) of structural steel, helped to assure the company’s initial success.

Job Abbott, first President of Dominion Bridge Company Ltd. (Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 3703664)

Plaque detail. (Source: D. Bray)

Plaque Wording: National Historic Civil Engineering Site. CSCE. THE REVERSING FALLS BRIDGES. Constructed at the site of a major suspension bridge. 1853-1915. Engineer Edward W. Serrell. And a cantilever bridge. 1885-1921. Engineers Job Abbott and P.S. Archibald. Canadian Society for Civil Engineering Centennial. 1887-1987.

SCGC. Site Historique National de Génie Civil. LES PONTS DES CHUTES RÉVERSIBLES. Construits au site d’un grand pont suspendu. 1853-1915. Edward W. Serrell Ingénieur. Et un pont en porte-à-faux. 1885-1921. Job Abbott and P. S. Archibald Ingénieurs. Société canadienne de genie civil centenaire. 1887-1987.

Plaque Unveiling Ceremony: The plaque unveiling ceremony was held on June 8, 1987 as part of an engineering day organized by the engineering groups of New Brunswick, the Engineering Institute of Canada, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and the Association of Professional Engineers of New Brunswick. The CSCE was represented by: Ira Beatty, past-President; Howard McFarlane; Chair of the CSCE Atlantic Region History Committee; and, Tony Kruysse Chair of the CSCE National History Committee.

Links to Online Documentation

johnwood1946, “The Great Saint John Steel Cantilever Bridge”.

johnwood1946, “The First Road Bridge over the Reversing Falls”.

Robert W. Passfield, “Philip Louis Pratley (1884-1958): bridge design engineer”, Can. J. Civ. Eng., 2007.

Biography of Job Abbott

Dominion Bridge Company Bridges and Steel Structures, 1915. (See pp. 18-19).