The “bridge” ponders its future

This is Island Park bridge talking to you! It’s the beautiful morning of July 1, 1920. The town is excited and pouring over me to the Island for this is their annual boat regatta! For a long time, I never realized I could talk but so many people have been saying nice things about me that I decided to talk back. I am surprised how well I can express myself! I am going to do my part to help my little town celebrate the visit of Prime Minister Arthur Meighen today. Meighen and the dignitaries have already driven over me in a cavalcade of Fords which I am happy to say were all manufactured in the Ford Motor Plant in Winnipeg. It is only 10 a.m. and already the good citizens of Portage are lining up to cross over my planked floor to beautiful Island Park!

The bridge that is me is not the first bridge to cross over Crescent Lake to the Island. The original bridge ran from 14 St. across to Billy Smith’s farm, but it was mostly just fill-in and was thus called The Mud Bridge. When it came time to build a new one over to the park that was becoming a real attraction they wanted one that would be beautiful and would become a hallmark of the community and so they chose this floating wooden pile construction. They knew this type of construction would stand the test for 75 years because the CPR was using this mode traversing swamps as they built the rail line across Canada.

We will have a visit by Conservative Prime Minister Meighen and the other politicians who are Liberals here at this time and then a whole beef that has been roasting overnight buried in a pit and covered with clay will be dug up, sliced and served with German potato salad. To top the afternoon off everyone is going to get a free vanilla Dixie Cup with a little wooden spoon. That is a swell new product and I have never even had one dropped on me yet! Prohibition is on so there will no booze at the picnic but I’ve seen some suspicious bulges in those jackets! This is very exciting because under me in the shade all the canoeists are finishing decorating their boats for the big race. The prize will be a silver cup! Later there will be skulling and sail boating. It’s just perfect for sails for there is a nice breeze. The church groups are preparing a tea under umbrellas on the bridge, desserts from the kitchens of Portage’s finest cooks. The Newman girls are bound to have their prize-winning apple pie available! Their baking will be displayed in the Crystal Palace where the home crafts are judged.

Because I am such a treasure to the town the Lion’s Club has spent yesterday decorating my ornamental lights and hanging swags of Japanese lanterns along my length! I look festive! I am excited as well because at noon various Portage bands will start to perform on the bridge centre podium. When darkness falls the lights will be turned on for dancing there. The two-step and the Charleston will echo over the lake that will be just kissing the rays of the setting sun goodnight! I must say I really appreciate the lake at this time of year for the water lilies gently scent the air and add their subtle pinks and creams to the peaceful scene below me.

This year we have a new park superintendent’s house in the park and it is so valuable to keep the park safe at nights. Since the Great War things have been getting a little unruly in the park! I hear he is a real horticulturalist and is decking out flower beds all over the park with the plants he grows himself in the park greenhouse. People never tire of coming over to see the big totem pole or laugh with the cute black bears in their pen. The kids, I hear, are throwing in too much popcorn! Don’t make our bears sick! Near the bear pit is the confection stand that I can see from my stance in the lake and how I would love to walk over there for one of those triple scooped cones or a nice cup of tea. Sadly, I cannot walk. Mrs. O’Reilly has handled the confection stand for years since she became a widow prematurely. Nearby is the children’s wading pool and although it isn’t deep it is so much fun and has a spray that really cools them down when it is 100 in the shade! The park is filled with happy kids and of course lovers strolling hand in hand. The park hasn’t been cleared of all the natural woods and those paths are perfect for whizzing through on a bike. That forest is the remnants of the huge forest La Verendrye discovered when he landed here. That is why he built his mission and school on the Island amongst the natives who did dwell there. It was then a garden paradise! It is competition to me but so many people love to walk through the greenhouse even in winter, for it contains rare plant specimens and a big tank of colourful Koi fish. I think it’s more fun just to look at me, the bridge!

Portage citizens consider walking through the greenhouse to be just as good as going to Palm Springs like a few rich folks here do! Across from the greenhouse are the swings and they never stop, their seats and chains are worn smooth from years of play. It is nice that there are no mosquitoes in the park. It is because the beds of bulrushes that sit here and there oxygenate the water and make the lake crystal clear. People say there are so many things to do in the park. The park has two stone lions! There is a statue of a sailor and a soldier, the old granite grindstones from Billy Smith’s flour mill and three big limestone gates from the back of the post office that became the entrance to our park! Here and there are grape covered bowers with seats for romantic moments. Over on the southeast side of the park, Mrs. Polden has opened a tea room on her verandah. How nice to have homemade cake and hot tea as you walk through the park! Another attraction is the forty deer who live on the south side of the Island. Then there is the duck nesting pond and beside it the aviary. Some strange birds live there and always worth a gander! The black and white swans glide around the big pond and although beautiful to look at, they bite!

There are always people fishing from off my pedestrian walkway and I see the fish all the time, some are well over a foot long!

Dating from many years back the beer garden still juts out into the lake just to the west of me. There are pine trees around its door and it is breezy and screened. A great place to watch the sailboats, have a beer and watch the fireworks that will explode around nine. The horse races thunder past and whinnying fills the air on that imported race track. Well, Portage boosters say the top earth for it was brought in from Kentucky and truly it is the finest track in the west! People love the races and the horse barns and the characters that care for those wonderful horses. I can hear the fabulous carnival music from the grandstand shows and I never tire of all the cacophony of people having a swell time at the Midway. I have had some interesting people walk over me today! I just saw Mayor Metcalfe and Dr. Walter Dalzell. The Sylvesters and the Hays are walking over from their homes that sit just to the east. Next to them is the oldest building in Portage, the old school that was hauled in from Pratt’s Landing, and there is those young Costigan girls! Fred Andrich will be sure to walk by as he is very interested in the cattle. They all sure know how to have a great time! There is so much going on here today! I just caught a whiff of the candy floss and candy apples being sold in the park! Everyone in town seems to be standing on me and I love every minute of it! I truly am the heart and soul of this dear town aren’t I! I am so proud to be the Crescent Lake Bridge and sit on this beautiful Lake!

The glaring weakness in the plan for the causeway is the public has no idea what they have bought into. Are we further degrading the quality of our lake water? The great success of the bridge party just indicates there is a strong community desire to reuse the bridge as a source of civic enjoyment.

Presently this opportunity for an attractive civic life is ours. Once lost, can it ever be replaced?

Don Pelechaty

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Top class writing and the stuff I appreciate from Don. Love it ! Make it widely available please.

    Reply

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