Reason #18 of '101 Reasons Why I Heart Edmonton'

The High Level Bridge

by emil tiedemann

THE City of Strathcona - located on the southside of the North Saskatchewan - amalgamated with the City of Edmonton - located on the northside of the river - on February 1, 1912. It was 16 months later, on June 2, 1913, that the High Level Bridge - linking the south with the north - was open to traffic for the first time. 

Not just automobile traffic either! The 755-metre long, 49-metre high steel and concrete structure was designed by Phillips B. Motley to accommodate vehicles, rail, streetcars, and pedestrians, and all but rail continue to use Edmonton’s most iconic and oldest bridge spanning the river. 
The stunning High Level Bridge at night (photo by Dylan Nicholson).

The streetcars were noticeably absent from the High Level from 1951 to 1979, but they are once again a charming destination for tourists and locals alike in the spring and summer seasons, especially during the Edmonton Fringe Festival in August. They’ve even become a popular venue for intimate and acoustic concerts. 

My favourite way to cross the High Level, however, is on foot. On the north tip, the stunning Alberta Legislature grounds welcome you, as does the bustling Garneau district on the south, and you’re almost definitely going to take a breather halfway through in order to snap a selfie with the river valley or downtown skyline. 

There are even inspiring reflections etched into the concrete of the High Level, such as “you are someone’s world” or “as I walk this bridge I see lights of hope.” They were a project by the students of Braemar High School as a way to offer encouraging messages to anyone who contemplated using the bridge to take their own lives. 
A look from the Alberta Legislature side of the High Level Bridge.

It’s an unfortunate, but real part of the High Level’s long history, one hauntingly chronicled in local filmmaker Trevor Anderson’s award-winning short film, aptly titled The High Level Bridge (2012). It was around the same time Anderson made his film that the City decided to scrap the traditional man-made waterfall that poured from atop the High Level, due to high costs and environmental concerns. 

In its place, premiering on Canada Day of 2014, was the Light the Bridge project, in which tens of thousands of LED lights are lit up every night. The High Level also plays venue to the annual “Bras Across the Bridge” fundraiser for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October). 

With a history that goes nearly as far back as Edmonton itself, the High Level is a part of the city on so many levels. To so many Edmontonians, it’s more than just a bridge. It’s a “part of our municipal psyche” (Anderson). #yegbridge 


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