By Melina Carrier for the ETRC
An unofficial characteristic that makes up the history of the Eastern Townships is the scenery of the landscape. The Eastern Townships is known to be one of the most beautiful regions in Quebec, diverse in both natural and historical features. One of the mascots that make up our landscape are the covered bridges that adorn the hillsides and are propped above winding rivers. For many years, these monuments of our heritage were used on a daily basis by the population and became the pillars of society resting in the memories of many proud locals. Over time, however, these bridges have become harder and harder to find as for many reasons they were torn down or demolished. Unfortunately, this became reality for many of the covered bridges in the daily lives of Townshippers. This fact holds true to the covered bridge that once stood in the village of Capelton.
Built in 1862 over the Massawippi River, the Capelton covered bridge was one of the pillars that characterized Capelton. The bridge held memories and traditions for many of the locals who added personal touches to the wood and nails, such as writing their names, or initials, on the inside of the bridge. The mines of Capelton weren’t the only pull for tourists to visit the town, many visited to see a bridge that fairly represented the history and culture of the Eastern Townships that the locals were proud of.
However, throughout the later part of the 20th century, many of the covered bridges that communities knew and loved were no exception to the perils of time as they began to degrade from the many years of usage. Many of the covered bridges became unsafe for modern traffic and needed substantial financial support in order to ensure continuous secure operation of the bridges, which some communities and private owners of the bridges could not afford. So, sadly, many fell onto a demolition list.
In the 1970s, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Quebec decided to save nine covered bridges in the Eastern Townships. By doing so, the chosen bridges would be considered ‘historical monuments’ and would become the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport to maintain. Among those saved was the Capelton covered bridge. The bridge and the surrounding land was declared a historical monument, and was therefore saved from demolition with the hopes of developing the area for tourism. The demolition of this particular bridge was considered because its owners could no longer produce the necessary financial support that would’ve been needed to ensure safe public circulation on the bridge after it had been declared unsafe for usage.
The long lifespan of the Capelton bridge would unfortunately not last forever, as the bridge was burned by arson in the wee hours of September 18, 2002, leaving behind a ghost of where this historical monument once stood and leaving the local citizens of the town to mourn the loss of the wood and nails that had built many fond memories. After the fire, what was left of the bridge structure was removed. Although there were multiple fundraisers, such as dance benefits and Oktoberfest, to get the funds necessary to fund the Capelton Bridge Reconstruction project, another covered bridge was never built.
This September will mark 20 years since the Capelton covered bridge last spanned the Massawippi and although the physical structure has been lost, it is far from forgotten. Today, when visiting the spot, indications that there once stood a monumental bridge along the river are the remaining abutments and an interpretative panel. Put in place prior to the bridge’s destruction, this panel now not only serves to educate visitors who come to see the spot, but also stands as commemoration to a covered bridge that served its community as more than a passageway across a river.