The Bridge

Copy of cathy thurston bridge

by Cathy Thurston

The Old Ship Marine Railway Bridge

The Isthmus of Chignecto, a 17 mile wide portion of land connecting Nova Scotia to New Brunswick is the site of one of the most ambitious failures in North American history. In 1875, a Fredericton engineer, Henry G.C. Ketchum conceived the idea of transporting ships by rail over the isthmus as opposed to the construction of a canal. (The proper name for the project being Chignecto Marine Transport Railway, it is commonly known as the Ship’s Railway.) By 1892 the railway was three-fourths completed when lack of funds and government opposition ceased production. Ketchum died in Amherst in 1896, his dream of a Chignecto Marine Transport Railway, unrealized.

The building of the stone culvert near the Tidnish River bridge was superintended by the engineers from Scotland, with the keystone for the arch also coming, ready-cut, from there. As told to the writer by a man who witnessed it, so exact was the work that when the keystone was dropped in place, no further adjustment was necessary. It fitted perfectly. The culvert was built for the purpose of diverting the course of the river through it to allow the natural channel to be filled in to form a part of the railroad bed. The completion of this would have allowed the rest of the rails to be laid the remaining distance to the Tidnish dock.

The culvert was finished and the filling of the river channel was going on, with two-thirds of the fill already in the space between the river banks, the site was swarming with Italian navies and Quebec men and their horses and carts, when suddenly the whole heap, with men, horses and all settled down into the river, heavy tides having undermined the filling. Instant pandemonium reigned, with horses, carts and men all plunging and wallowing together and excited shrieking and cursing in several languages! Fortunately no one, or horse, was killed or even seriously injured. It was intended to begin re-filling the space, but at about this point the work on the whole project was stopped and nothing further was ever done. The river gradually washed out the obstructing earth, and once more ran in its normal channel, as it does today, while the big stone culvert stands solidly and idly by in the adjoining marsh, called a fine monument to futility, but a much favored subject for artists and photographers.

For more information you may visit The Old Ship Railway