For the first time, the Town of Banff is delving into the area of designating its own heritage infrastructure as significant historical landmarks, including the Bow River Bridge, in a bid to preserve its heritage character and help fund repairs and maintenance.
Banff council has given notice it intends to designate the 1921 bridge as a municipal historic resource, as it is considered a national icon and local landmark. That gives the public 120 days to provide input on the proposal.
Heritage planners say unlike designation of historic homes or main street buildings, bridges are untitled parcels and critical pieces of infrastructure and their protection is typically provided directly through a municipal designation bylaw.
“What we’re seeing is this increasingly common practice to have a municipality apply to designate its own resources,” said Jennifer Laforest, the Town’s heritage planner.
“The only thing that protects bridges in Alberta tends to be a designation bylaw by council. Council retains the ability to make changes and revoke future designation bylaws as required.”
The Bow River Bridge, which extends across the Bow River from Banff Avenue to the south side, is considered an A-ranked non-residential property.
Laforest said the bridge is valuable and worthy of conservation due to its architectural style –– representative of British landscape architect and planner Thomas Mawson’s original 1914 master plan for the Banff townsite and City Beautiful design principles.
She said the bridge is esthetically valuable, noting the ornamental parapet features details including six Aboriginal mascaron ornaments (a face of an unidentified First Nations man), seven fascia arches between the water-based piers, 14 globe lamp posts, four bulb piers and it is finished almost exclusively with local Rundle stone and riverstone.
It’s also important for its status as a national icon and area landmark, she said.
“The Bow River Bridge is recognized as having incredible cultural and architectural value,” Laforest said.
The municipality’s heritage reserve fund was set up primarily to award financial incentives associated with municipal historic resource resignation. If approved for designation, the bridge would be eligible for up to $50,000 as well as other provincial grants.
A 2005 municipal infrastructure inspection report showed the bridge needed non-structural maintenance to intricate stone masonry cladding on the bridge piers. There’s currently $150,000 slated in the 2017 capital budget for non-structural repairs.
“What we’re seeing is that the masonry on those piers is slowly falling into the Bow River,” Laforest said.
“We want to make sure the repairs we do to the bridge are historically accurate.”
Councillor Ted Christensen voiced concerns about whether designation could hamper future proposals to address Banff’s traffic congestion as outlined in the long-term transportation plan.
That study, however, notes widening the bridge would be extremely difficult and costly due to its age and historical significance. The study concluded widening the bridge would have “minimal effects” on traffic movement.
Christensen suggested deferring any decision until the results of a public survey on the long-term transportation survey are finalized. However, he ended up supporting the notice of intent on the basis that information on the de-designation process would come back to council.
“I don’t want to hamper the possibility of any further changes due to the long-term transportation plan,” he said. “I think designating this bridge has worthy historical significance, but I don’t want to tie ourselves up. I still have a concern that we couldn’t un-designate if we need to.”
Coun. Brian Standish voiced full support for designation.
“I’d like to publicly admit that I’m a historical architectural junkie and this stuff is great stuff,” he said.
“I get stopped on the street by old time locals, saying how they complain the town of Banff has changed so much, and yes it has, but this is the first step in slowing down the hands of change.”
The Town of Banff is also looking to designate other municipal properties, including Old Banff Cemetery and the nearby Banff power substation.