September 22, 2023
Looking upstream at Mitchell's Bridge
By Guy Scott
The Burnt River has always been a major obstacle to road builders. It was so in pioneer days and still is today. Between the junction of the three branches of the Burnt River at Three Brothers Falls and its terminus at Rosedale, there are only 5 bridges across the River. The most southerly bridge is Mitchell’s Bridge on Northline Road in the first concession of Somerville Township. This bridge linked the communities of Baddow and Rettie’s Station (Burnt River) with Fenelon Falls via the Northline Road.
In the 1870s, the Fenelon Road was built from Kinmount to Burnt River and hence on to Fenelon Falls via this bridge. The Fenelon Road was never a major artery, easier access to Fenelon Falls and beyond being by the Victoria Railway. The first bridge spanned the Burnt River in 1860. In 1881, the bridge was destroyed by fire… of a suspicious nature. Some blamed the lumbermen whose river drives were often hampered by Mitchell’s Bridge. But the real culprit turned out to be a steam boat operator, who found the bridge blocked his boat (the Coboconk) from accessing Burnt River village. The steam boat operator suggested a swing bridge, but it never happened. For 10 years, the bridge still stood, but was considered ‘unsafe’ and most wheeled traffic diverted to the Rosedale Bridge.
By 1891, the Somerville Council authorized a new bridge to span the river at a different site. The new structure cost $1,650, a princely sum in 1891, and was much solid than its predecessor. Wooden piles were pushed into the river bed to support the new structure, but these were very vulnerable to spring ice damage and major repairs were needed regularly. By 1926 a new bridge was necessary and the present bridge was installed. A trick of fate made the current steel bridge available. The land bridge was originally built to be installed over a river in China. Before it could be shipped out, civil war gripped China and the contract was cancelled. The Township of Somerville acquired the completed span very cheaply and (fortunately) it fitted the Mitchell’s Bridge site perfectly.
In 2011, the city engineers for the City of Kawartha Lakes decided Mitchell’s Bridge had outlived its usefulness and needed to be replaced. A new design was presented at a cost of $4.2 million. A petition was circulated calling for the present “heritage bridge” to be saved. In 2014-15, the bridge was rebuilt, with a plaque erected to commemorate the 1926-7 Hamilton Bridge Company Steel Pratt through truss.