Written by: Kirsty Howie
Photos credit: Montgomery Sisam
The Humber River, one of the two major rivers in Ontario, is 100km long and flows into Lake Ontario. Atop this body of water lies a bridge in a place that connects what use to be considered Toronto and Etobicoke, where the Humber flows out into the vast waters of Lake Ontario. Completed in 1994 the Humber Bay Arch Bridge is 139 meters long, with a width of 6.50 meters and cost a total of $4,050,000 to build. This bridge is also known as the Gateway Bridge/ Humber Bay Pedestrian Bridge as this is the best way to cross the city if not in a car.
The project was a complied team of the clients, engineers, artists, and architects, and “it was a true collaboration of many different disciplines” (Brad Golden, one of the team members). One of the architects hired for the job was Montgomery and Sisam Architects Firm; and Delcan oversaw the structural engineering as well as the construction supervision of the project. Ahmoo (Allan) Angeconeb from Lac Seul First Nation was the First Nations art consultant for the project. Ahmoo is often a guest lecturer in First Nations art classes. He is also a consultant and has been a judge for the Ontario Arts Counsel regarding First Nations Art. His work is featured in the in collections at the McMicheal Canadian Collection, Museum Institute of Indian Art, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, University of Onsabruck, and the Woodland Indian Centre. www.maslakmcleod.com/painting/ahmoo-angeconeb.html.
Although Ahmoo was consulted for the project, unfortunately there was not much First Nation input in the project and the architects on the project chose the designs (www.smashinglists.com). Everyone had a voice in the project, and it was not done by one individual person or firm. This is a reflection of First Nations culture as many times in many circumstances the whole community will have a chance to speak and give input, and the matter at hand cannot be dissolved until everyone agrees.
The bridge is a beautiful piece of art that honors the First Nations influence in the area, as the bridge sits on top of a heavily travelled trading route used by First Nations for more than two hundred years (Mongomery and Sisam), and played a key role in Canada’s development and history. This route allowed First Nations people to gain access to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay (Montgomery and Sisam). The space was also shared with the French Settlers whom created a trading post near the mouth of the Humber River in 1720 (Museum of Archelogy). The top of the bridge displays the Thunderbird, an important symbol to First Nations people. The Thunderbird is the seer of all, being able to fly so high above all and it carries many significant traditional teachings. Under the bridge turtles, canoes, snakes and salmon are displayed, which act to commemorate the First Nations influence on the area, as well as the natural species that used to inhabit this space, but have since left due to pollution. It is a reminder that with the rise of the concrete world we need to remember and respect what used to be here, and treat it in a way that will enable these creatures to return and stay.
The Arch Bridge has won many awards including the Governor General’s Award of Merit 1997, City of Toronto’s Urban Design Award of Excellence 1997, Award of Excellence from the City of Etobicoke 1996, The Canadian Institute of Steel Design 1996, Canadian Architect 1995 (www.the-site.com/humber.htm). The Bridge also won the Waterfront Centre Honor Design Award 1997, and lastly, City of Toronto Urban Design Award in 1997 (Ferris and Associates Firm).
On top of accomplishing all of these awards, the Arch Bridge is featured on the 15 most amazing and beautiful bridges list (international) coming in at number 14.
The photos below are of the fence that was around the construction site of the bridge. The team felt that since the fence would be up for at least seven years while the bridge was being completed it would make sense for the surrounding enclosure to relate to what would soon emerge. The design that was chosen for the fence embodies that of a Wampum Belt. In First Nations culture, specifically Haudenosaunee, the Wampum Belt symbolizes a contract between two groups, in most cases the Haudenosaunee and the European settlers. It is a treaty and bond that promises to respect one another and not interfere with each other’s ways.