Montreal’s iconic Champlain Bridge, which spanned the St. Lawrence River for six decades, is being taken apart piece by piece, but will live on as wristwatches, public art, a greenhouse, a bicycle and other items.
Remnants are being provided to artisans, students and others as the result of a contest organized by the federal agency that managed the former three-kilometre-long bridge.
The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated Crown corporation picked 11 out of 28 proposals to create new objects from the structure.
That’s how Montreal blacksmith Jacques Gallant ended up being allotted 340 kilograms of steel he will use to make a bicycle as well as several bike racks.
“I applied to this project because it was an interesting chance to have a part of something prominent and historic and to reuse it and give it a new life in an interesting way,” he said.
Mr. Gallant, who makes custom steel bicycles, said a conventional bike frame is composed of seven pieces. He will be cutting strips of bridge metal and manipulating them into the sections he needs. Other pieces – the chain, pedals, gears and such – will be purchased.
“I’m going to be that guy that forged a bike from a steel girder.”
Pieces of the old bridge – now being dismantled in a $225.7-million exercise that began in 2020 and is expected to take until next year – will be distributed across Quebec. Students in the Montreal-area municipality of Brossard will be making furniture from sections. In the rural municipality of Elgin, Montérégie, they will take on new life as a footbridge. Segments will also be used for a sculpture featuring 15 vertical steel panels called MÉMOIRE, meant to evoke memories of the bridge.
Nathalie Lessard, communications director for the Jacques Cartier-Champlain organization, said the 400 pieces being provided through the contest represent a very small portion of the structure.
The main objective of the competition, she said, was to invite people to memorialize the bridge in creative, interesting ways. Proposals were vetted for such factors as public usefulness and feasibility.
The Champlain Bridge, opened in 1962 after five years of construction, linked the island of Montreal to the mainland. It was built to help with the flow of traffic to and from the suburbs south of the city. But a mix of design issues, drainage problems and degradation led to the decision to replace it.
A new $4.2-billion-Champlain Bridge was built between 2015 and 2019 north of the original. It’s eight lanes – two larger than its predecessor – and includes track for the city’s new automated Réseau express métropolitain LRT system.
Video of the old bridge’s deconstruction posted online show spans being taken apart and removed, one by one, with the help of barges. Other pieces were removed by heavy equipment working off temporary jetties. When deconstruction began, there was the equivalent of about two times the weight of the CN Tower in concrete, steel and asphalt to deal with.
“We’re not demolishing it. We are deconstructing it. So it is a much more delicate process. We’re not using dynamite, wrecking balls or anything like that. It’s dismantling it piece by piece,” Ms. Lessard said.
Steve Christensen, who runs Novo Watch in Lethbridge, Alta., is scheduled to receive an 896-kilogram steel piece with which to make custom watches.
“One of the most fun things is taking something that has historic significance and then presenting it to someone who actually has a connection to that historic significance,” he said. “There are so many people, I’m sure, who were positively or negatively affected by that bridge.”
Mr. Christensen, whose operation has previously made watches from vintage rail tracks, plans to hire someone in Montreal to cut up the piece into smaller fragments to be sent west. He’s looking for 50 squares of metal, each four inches by four inches, to make 50 watches. The gears inside will be Swiss made. Overall, the watches will be sold for about $2,599 each. He hopes to have the timepieces available in about two months.
“I think repurposing is a no-brainer. If you can make something out of previously used material, give it a new life and a new form, the story is great.
As for Mr. Gallant, he plans on making only one bridge-cycle.
”It’s not an idea that makes sense in any practical way,” he said. “It’s a sculptural piece, taking an automobile bridge and turning it into a bicycle. It’s like swords into ploughshares.”