A changing Petitcodiac River reveals a piece of Moncton’s history

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For decades it was buried in the muddy banks of the Petitcodiac River.

Its counterparts held out for 88 years before being removed in 2006, but remained hidden under silt deposited in the smothered river.

In 2017, a granite stone pier that once supported Gunningsville’s Fourth Bridge connecting Moncton and Riverview began to emerge from the shore.

Today, the bank has receded several meters and the stones installed more than a century ago are again surrounded by water.

WATCH | Part of an old bridge rises from muddy Petitcodiac

Altering the Petitcodiac River reveals part of Moncton’s history

Following the opening of the causeway upstream, a stone pier that once supported Gunningsville’s Fourth Bridge emerges from the muddy banks of the Petitcodiac River.

Its re-emergence is a very visible sign of the evolution of the river following the opening of the causeway.

“It tells you how powerful this river is when it has room to flow,” Lawren Campbell, heritage and culture coordinator at Resurgo Place Museum in Moncton.

The stone pier was one of several piers installed from 1915 that supported the steel bridge at a time when the tidal river was much wider than it is today.

Campbell said the pier would have been in the water when it was built. It’s likely the pier required a special pressurized structure in the river so work crews could dig through the mud to prepare its foundation, Campbell said.

Lawren Campbell, heritage and culture coordinator at Moncton’s Resurgo Place museum, says the stones used in the jetty were originally part of another bridge in Saint John. (Shane Magee/CBC)

When the causeway connecting Riverview and Moncton was completed upstream in 1968, it interrupted the regular tidal flow of the river. The silt quickly accumulated on the shore, narrowing the river channel and burying the pier.

After the provincial government replaced this bridge with a concrete bridge a few meters upstream in 2005, the steel bridge and its stone pillars were removed. But most of at least one remained hidden in the silt.

A push by environmentalists to restore the river led to the causeway gates being opened in 2010, followed by a new bridge that replaced part of the causeway that restored tidal flow in 2021.

Gunningsville’s Fourth Bridge and its supporting piers shown in 1990 when the river channel was much narrower. (Resurgo Place/Submitted)

These steps resulted in changes downstream, with the erosion of the deposited silt.

The pier, however, is not intact. Several stones on the upstream side are missing. It is unknown if they were removed during the demolition of the bridge or due to ice and tidal forces.

Campbell believes these forces will make what is now visible a temporary reminder of the bridge.

“You can see the base for many years, but no, it’s a flowing, mighty, powerful river,” he said. “I don’t foresee it lasting very long.”

The pier can be seen from Gunningsville’s Fifth Bridge built a few meters upstream completed in 2005. It had been hidden in the bank until the channel widened in recent years. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Campbell said the bridge had another pier closer to Moncton than the one now visible and thinks it’s possible there is still one on the shore as well.

The provincial government was required to monitor the river following changes to the causeway. A February 2019 report noted the emergent pier which is considered an archaeological site as it is over 100 years old.

The report states that if the demolition of the structure is planned, further archaeological investigations and documentation of the site should be carried out.

On Tuesday, CBC News requested interviews with officials from two provincial departments — Tourism, Heritage and Culture, and Transportation and Infrastructure — to ask about river monitoring, whether the pier was intentionally left in place and what she can do about the pier.

No interview was provided. A statement provided by email Wednesday afternoon did not answer those questions.

The stone pillars were an example of recycling building materials.

Campbell said the stone was originally part of a suspension bridge in Saint John that existed from 1853 to 1915. When it was replaced, the Gunningsville Bridge was being planned.

“It’s an amazing story about early recycling,” Campbell said.

Recycling continued after the demolition of the Gunningsville Bridge in 2006.

Stone from the pillars that were removed were distributed to Moncton and Riverview.

Those in Riverview were used for retaining walls along the approaches to the new Gunningsville Bridge, while those in Moncton are part of a retaining wall along St. George Boulevard in Centennial Park.

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