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Bridges Over the Burnt River

April 12, 2024

Steamer and Page Wire Bridge Over the Burnt River at Concession 3 Somerville near Stoney Lonesome School

By Guy Scott

There are several outstanding geological features of the Kinmount area. Certainly the hard granite of the Canadian Shield springs to mind. The multitude of fine lakes also fits this topic. But one of the defining features in the Burnt River. This great river slices through the Kinmount area from north-east to south-west. Its headwaters are in Harburn Township (Haliburton County) and Algonquin Park. The Burnt empties into Cameron Lake near Rosedale. It encompasses a large watershed with many feeder streams and lakes. The Burnt River dominated the early history of the area. In the age before wheel transport (wagon or train), the Burnt River was a canoe route that provided easy access to the area. But for anyone who has canoed the river, it is not an ideal route for transportation. The river is broken by numerous waterfalls and rapids. The current flows south at a strong rate: great for floating logs south, but a tough paddle if you go upstream (north) against the current. And canoes are too small for serious loads of freight or large groups of travellers. Certainly the trappers used the Burnt, but for settlers and lumbermen, it was not a suitable transportation route. In order to access the Burnt River watershed, it was necessary to use alternate transport. In the pioneer period, this meant roads (and later railroads!) And roads meant bridges over the waterways, of which the Burnt River was the largest obstacle. You could go around lakes and use corduroy (causeways made of cedar poles and stones) to cross swamps, but the Burnt River was an obstacle hard to miss. Since bridges were expensive to build and maintain, the earliest roads tried to avoid bridges across the Burnt as much as possible.

The Bobcaygeon Road commenced at Bobcaygeon, while access was gained by steamboat. Small bridges were necessary at Silver Lake and Union Creek, but the Bobcaygeon Road only had one crossing of the Burnt River at Kinmount. The village actually grew up around the bridge, although having a mill-worthy waterfall in town also helped. Minden straddles the Bobcaygeon Road bridge over the Gull River. Enough said about the importance of bridges over major streams. The Burnt River in Somerville Township alone had 9 bridges built across its winding course. One of these was a foot bridge and another was a railway bridge. The rest were designed for wheeled and foot traffic.

Mitchell’s Bridge: This bridge crossed the Burnt River in the first concession and was the second oldest bridge over the River, being built about 1865. It linked the pioneer settlements of Baddow and Rettie’s Station with their shopping centre of Fenelon Falls. Previously settlers had come up the Burnt River by boat and landed on the north shore to proceed north. Mitchell’s Bridge was on the relatively unknown Fenelon Colonization Road, which ran from Fenelon Falls up the west side of the Burnt River, through Rettie’s Station (now Burnt River) and on to Kinmount. This road was a parallel route to the Bobcaygeon Road; designed to link Somerville Township with Fenelon Falls. The Fenelon Road was not as famous as the Bobcaygeon Road and was largely unused after the arrival of the Victoria Railway in 1876. The old bridge was replaced in 2015.

Wilson Bridge: This was a foot bridge over the Burnt River on Lot 18, Concession 3. The Wilson family built this bridge so their children, who lived on the west bank, could cross the river to attend SS#13 (Stoney Lonesome School) on the east bank. It was a much shorter distance for the Wilson children than SS#10. The Bridge was simply two strands of page wire nailed to a plank and page wire floor. It took courage to walk across this wobbly structure! There is no record of any deadly plunges from this suspension bridge.

Railway Bridge: The Victoria Railway coming from Fenelon Falls had to cross the Burnt River somewhere, and Lot 16, Concession 4 was the chosen spot. The original bridge was built in 1875 and was 133 feet long. Once the railway crossed to the west side of the river, it didn’t cross the Burnt again until Gelert! The current bridge replaced the first bridge in 1952.

Handley’s Bridge (Lot 14, Concession 5): This was a private bridge built by the Handley Family just south of the village of Burnt River. The Handley farm was divided by the Burnt River and a bridge was built to allow access to the west bank fields. The first structure was a floating bridge which could be moved to allow the log drives to go past. The second bridge was a substantial structure designed to accommodate wagons as well as livestock. Joseph Brisbin was the builder. It must have cost the Handley Family a tidy sum to bridge the river. The bridge lasted into the 1940s.

Rettie’s Bridge: The earliest bridge across the Burnt River was Rettie’s or Lamb’s Bridge on Lot 12, Concession 5. The first structure was opened in 1865, on the site of the Rettie Farm. This bridge allowed pioneers east of the river access to Northline Road and thus Fenelon Falls. At this early date, there was no village or railway line at Burnt River. When the village began to grow up along the rail line, this was the main bridge to the village of Burnt River. There were four bridges built at this site, built in 1865, 1888, 1908 and 1962. Today this bridge is the most popular access point to the village.

East Line Bridge: A bridge to give access to the north end of the village (Lot 11, Concession 6) started as a floating bridge at the site of the Nichol’s sawmill. Floating bridges were tough to maintain in the face of spring floods, log drives, etc. and a wooden bridge replaced the first structure in 1888. As traffic grew along the concession line east towards Union Creek and the Bobcaygeon Road, a used steel structure was placed over the River in 1931 to replace the bridge destroyed in the Great Flood of 1928. In the 1930s, a new concrete bridge was built to cross the river. Centennial Park was created between the bridge and the river as a Bicentennial project in 1983. This bridge has been called the “East Line Bridge” or “Hodgson’s Bridge.”

Byrne’s Bridge: The Burnt River continues angling north-east until it hits the 9th Line of Somerville (also called Byrnes Line) in the road allowance between concession 8 and 9. In 1907 a bridge spanned the Burnt River on this concession line and was named Byrne’s Bridge or Cavanaugh’s Bridge, after the families who lived on either side. The road to Watson’s siding met the 9th Line Road on the west end of the bridge. In the Great Flood of 1928, this bridge was washed away and never replaced due to low traffic volume.

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