ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

The Opening of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge on the Alaska Highway, 1956

Alaska Highway History

An Explorer's Guide to the Alaska Highway ("Alcan")

The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, May 10, 1956

Sun Shines Brightly As New Bridge Is Officially Opened At Teslin, 1956

    A serene and sunny day saw the Nisutlin Bridge opened at Teslin last Wednesday, May 2nd. The simple ceremony and brilliant sun were in contrast to the many difficulties encountered by the contractors in building the seven-span structure. Commissioner F. H. Collins cut the ribbon to officially declare the bridge open. As he cut the ribbon the bridge actually opened with a "bang" as a thunderflash was set off on the lake ice some distance away.

    Reverend Father F. B. Triggs, OMI, blessed the bridge and prayed for the good passage of those who might travel across its steel and concrete spans.

    Many local people were on hand, including Cub and RCMPolice representatives. An official party representing a cross section of the public and army officials left Whitehorse early Wednesday morning for the highway trip to the opening.

    After cutting of the ribbon the official party moved in a motor cavalcade across the bridge and up the hill on the south side of the bay, then turned at the hilltop to make the return trip. From there the group went to the DOT area where a reception was held and the familiar figure of Bob Hughes was on hand to things moving.

    In his address on opening of the bridge Commissioner Collins said "construction of this new bridge is graphic illustration of the forward thinking of the Commander of the Northwest Highway System and the contributions made to the Yukon Territory by the Canadian Army since the Canadian portion of the Alaska Highway was taken over from the United States in 1946. Not only in bridges but in other important items which collectively make up the highway are the evidences of leadership, initiative, and energy emphasized. I am sure we can look forward to a continuation of this program under the guidance of Brigadier Meuser.


    "Tribute must also be paid to Messrs. R. M. Hardy & Associates Ltd. for the design and supervision of construction, to Messrs. Dutton-Mannix for superstructure construction, to the Western Bridge and Steel Fabrication Ltd., for steel supplied and fabricated, and to Edgar Bickerton Bridge and Steel Erectors Ltd. for steel erection.

    "It is customary to say a few nice things about a departed friend but in this case it would be difficult to do so as the old bridge has been a constant source of trouble and expense. However, we can say it was the longest bridge on the highway - 2326 feet - and let it go at that.

    "The new bridge is 1917 feet long and the shortening of the spans by over 400 feet reflects great credit on the Royal Canadian Engineers in planning and effecting the obvious economy involved. We, in the territory, have much cause for gratitude to the RCE and_associated military and civilian services operating and maintaining the Northwest Highway System with such year-round efficiency.

    "I would like to take this opportunity of tendering my sincere congratulations to all those who have had a part in bringing the new Nisutlin Bay Bridge to completion and thanking Brigadier Meuser for the honour of opening it to the traffic of the world."

Official Guests Only
                                                                                P.O. Box 219
                                                                                Whitehorse, Yukon
                                                                                May 2, 1956
Editor, The Whitehorse Star,

    Sir: As a lot of other local people my wife and I went to Teslin on Wednesday, May 2, to witness the opening of the new highway bridge over Nisutlin Bay.

    A few minutes before the ceremony was to commence, programs were distributed by an army sergeant to anybody who wanted one:

  1. Assembly of official guests.
  2. Blessing by Father F. B. Triggs.
  3. Address by Commissioner F. H. Collins.
  4. Opening declaration.
  5. Cavalcade of official guests and spectators.
  6. Official guests assemble at DOT building.

    After the opening declaration everybody there was told to go back to cars and drive over bridge in cavalcade.

    When trying to enter cavalcade, however, we were told by an army MP on guard at bridge approach, that cavalcade was for invited guests and officials only, who all had to drive across bridge, turn around on south side, and return to north side safely, before passage open to public.

    So like a lot of other "ordinary" people we drove back 33 miles home. At least we had seen part of the ceremony.

    It seems a little odd to some of us local people that none of us should rate an invitation. A lot of splendid citizens from Whitehorse, over 100 miles off, were there, supplied with "special guest" stickers on their cars.

    Back six, eight, 10 years ago it was emphasized how important establishment of roadhouses, filling stations, etc., along the new highway would be. And I think we have done fairly well in helping making travelling for anybody possible along the road.

    We put up and fed the different roving crews of the highway maintenance system, when old or new bridges and buildings are to be repaired or constructed.

    We even contribute our little share in income and mostly other taxes which possibly go to pay for new bridge and camps along the road I have since my start here in 1947 contributed $15,000 to the territorial treasury by sale of 250,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel oil at six cents per gallon tax.

    The territorial government considers us so important - as taxpayers - that we pay more in property tax out here along the "crowded" highway than we pay in meagre income tax on our net earnings.

    But on the "big day of the opening of Nisutlin Bridge" we are not wanted or allowed, even if it said on the program "cavalcade of official guests and spectators."

    If it has to be so, it should at least be made clear before - and in plenty of time - that we are not wanted; so we could have saved us the trouble of driving 66 miles - to be told to go home again: This is only for official guests.

                                                                                R. Porsild
                                                                                Johnson's Crossing Lodge
                                                                                Mile 837.

    Ed. Note - Having crossed the bridge as a member of the "official" party, it seemed to me the main thing officials were trying to do in restricting first traffic after the cutting of the tape was to prevent an awful traffic snarl at the other end. Cars (and the bus I was in) drove up the highway to the top of the hill and then, by a complicated shuffle of backing up and switching back, each car individually had to turn around for the return-trip. If there had been many more cars, the limited area for turning would have been a real traffic jam. In every such opening there is an official party, - not to maintain an exclusive privilege but to represent all the people (in this case) of the territory. The army has done us all a good turn in their excellent maintenance and further development of the highway as the Nisutlin Bridge itself indicates. Its officers would no doubt feel as much regret as anyone, if they believed any person using the highway felt discriminated against. As a matter of fact, within a few minutes of the official party's departure across the bridge and before their return, private cars and pedestrians were already trying out the new structure.

The new and old Nisutlin Bay Bridges, ca. 1960. Photo by Bill Lythgoe.
The new and old Nisutlin Bay Bridges, ca. 1956. Photo by Bill Lythgoe.

Looking east on July 27, 2011. Photo by Murray Lundberg.
Looking east along the Nisutlin Bay Bridge on July 27, 2011. Photo by Murray Lundberg.

Looking west on October 6, 2013. Photo by Murray Lundberg.
Looking west along the Nisutlin Bay Bridge on October 6, 2013. Photo by Murray Lundberg.