It’s a new era for the Blackfriars community as they await the return of their beloved bridge.

The neighbourhood is best known for its nearby bridge, which was removed in late November 2017 as part of its revitalization. The community values the bridge so much, they held a “Bye Bye Bridge” party on the last day anyone could access the old bridge.

The iconic Blackfriars Bridge was removed near the end of 2017 as part of the revitalization process. It was built in 1875 and closed to vehicular traffic in 2013.

A Significant part of London’s heritage

“It’s the link from London to West London,” Susan Jory, the president of the Blackfriars Community assosication, said. “It’s the oldest bridge of its kind in North America. The built heritage of the bridge is arguably, the most important in London.”

Kevin Bice and his wife, Daphne, have lived in the neighbourhood for an impressive 17 years, after their children moved out of their North London home. The couple explored older neighbourhoods for a smaller home and loved the Blackfriars neighbourhood’s gardens.

The Blackfriars community is perhaps best known for its proximity to the Thames River, and the iconic bridge that linked the neighbourhood to Downtown London, Ontario. Alternative text/description: The Blackfriars neighbourhood in London, Ontario.
The Blackfriars community is perhaps best known for its proximity to the Thames River, and the iconic bridge that linked the neighbourhood to Downtown London, Ontario.
Alternative text/description: The Blackfriars neighbourhood in London, Ontario.

Bice felt the removal and rehabilitation of the bridge is unique.

“They’ve been doing cosmetic work on it for years – painting things, patching up things, replacing bits and pieces, repairing boards,” he said. “None of that was really addressing the major issues.”

Some residents, however, aren’t as optimistic about the bridge’s removal.

Kim Miller moved from Wortley Village to Blackfriars so she could still be nearby Downtown, the river, and paths. She said the money could have been used towards issues such as homelessness and poverty.

“The bridge could have waited much longer for repairs if it only needed to support bikes and pedestrians,” Miller added. “You don’t need to be an engineer to know that. It was solid.”

The Blackfriars Bridge in the air in London, Ontario.
The Blackfriars Bridge in the air in London, Ontario.

Michele Hosson, who has lived in the area for a year and a half, decided to live in Blackfriars so her boyfriend could walk to his Downtown workplace. However, he has a longer commute because the bridge is removed.

“It’s an extra 15 minutes, which I guess isn’t that bad,” Hosson said. “But when it’s minus 20, or it’s raining, or if it’s crappy out, he just won’t go. The path he has to take now isn’t always taken care of.”

Safety Concerns

Before the bridge was removed, Jory said while she couldn’t speak for all residents, but many had safety concerns about the bridge. Some were worried the bridge would crack when it was removed. Others were worried about the mature trees being removed in the area, and some felt there should be a concrete block to hold the bridge up. Some residents were also concerned about an increase in crime.

However, Jory said that at the moment, she hasn’t been told of any recent safety concerns from the residents.

You could still see the bridge past the barricade for another month before it was removed in the fall of 2017.
You could still see the bridge past the barricade for another month before it was removed in the fall of 2017.

Hosson is concerned about the safety of her two kids and pets. She said some drivers drive too fast through Wilson Avenue, despite the speed bumps. She wished the Blackfriars Bridge stayed as a bike and pedestrian-only path. Hosson is also concerned about the possible speedy traffic flow when the bridge returns.

“My kids play down there all the time. It’s something they’re going to have to be careful of now,” Hosson said. “Everyone here either has a dog or cat, and a lot of them are outside. It’s just really worrisome.”

Finding a new route

Hosson said her recreational time has changed. She said she and her family don’t go to Downtown landmarks, including Victoria Park and the area’s many restaurants, as often anymore because of parking. When the bridge was intact, they would just walk to events downtown.

The Blackfriars Bridge has not had vehicular access since 2013, but it could still be accessed by walking or cycling. After the construction started, however, people who normally use the bridge to get to and from the Blackfriars area to Downtown London, will have to find another route.

If you bike, you have to get off at Empress, then get back on Carruthers or Cummings.

If anyone living in Blackfriars wants to leave the neighbourhood, they have to get out via Riverside, Wharncliffe, and Oxford, which Jory said is manageable.

The Blackfriars Bridge in London, Ontario around June 2017.
The Blackfriars Bridge in London, Ontario around June 2017.

“The inconvenience really comes from the people who travel to and from downtown,” Jory said. “I can hardly say I’m inconvenienced in my dog. There are other ways I can walk.”

In a follow-up interview, Jory said that they would like to use the path that starts at the park at Talbot and Napier.

“It’s not a life-or-death situation, but there are people who would like to walk it.”

Stephen Owen has lived in the Blackfriars neighbourhood with his girlfriend for over a year. He said that the removal of the bridge adds an extra three minutes to his commute, but said that other than a small inconvenience, it’s not that big of a deal.

Owen said the rehabilitating the bridge will be worth it, adding the Blackfriars neighbourhood is one of London’s oldest communities.

“Having it restored to close to its original condition is great for maintaining the history in the city,” Owen said. “To maintain the image, I think, is kind of neat.”

Echo Gardiner, who has lived in the area for about a year and a half, said her commute to downtown is less scenic and 15 minutes longer. She also misses photographing the bridge.

“I miss the easy direct access I had for my commute and walks,” she said. “I fully understand it’s for the long term use of the bridge.”

The makeover process is expected to finish November 2018.

 

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