Long before the automobile with its rear seat and waterproofed roof was in common use, there were numerous wooden bridges in rural North America. Wood was abundant; its use in the construction of bridges was inexpensive and readily available to smaller communities confronted with the necessity of river and gorge crossings. In Canada, an open wooden bridge lasted only ten to fifteen years if exposed to rain, ice, snow and temperature change. It was discovered that when a bridge was covered, its life span could be increased up to seventy years if treated with protective preservatives and paint.
The bridge in Hartland, New Brunswick, is probably the most known covered bridge in Canada having a length reaching almost thirteen hundred feet spanning the St. John River. There are a number of covered bridges still in use in the Eastern United States.
A century ago, there were five covered wooden bridges in Ontario. Only one exists today. It's called the Kissing Bridge and can be found in West Montrose, an engaging hamlet in Waterloo County. Built in 1881 the bridge spans two hundred and eight feet across the Grand River.
In 1950, electric lighting was installed in the interior of the bridge replacing the oil lanterns at both entrances that were required to be maintained nightly. In 1959, a Second World War Bailey truss bridge replaced the original structure. Wood planking was installed to conceal the steel struts necessary to sustain heavier vehicular traffic.
Residents of West Montrose, (the bashful ones), will tell you that the reason for the name Kissing Bridge is that a kiss was the price charged by amorous males to their lady passengers for crossing over the bridge. There is a suspicion that horses often were trained to stop midpoint inside the bridge allowing opportunity for payment before continuing on.
Let's go back in time to when covered bridges were common. Automobiles were few and young people courted in open horse drawn buggies offering little or no protection from the elements. Like today, the youth of yesteryear were ingenious. They spurned Mother Nature's moods and sought to avoid her changing temper and sudden out-pours. During romantic Ontario evenings, covered bridges were often suspected of being occupied by horse drawn buggies with both genders on board, going nowhere. In Ontario, sheltered from rain, wind and unwanted interference, "love is everywhere."
The secret of West Montrose is no longer a secret. Maybe the Kissing Bridge derived its name from other sources and perhaps there never was a toll to cross the bridge. The debate continues to this day. Either way, when you cross inside the covered bridge over the Grand River with a loved one, be sure to stop midway and take advantage of the wonderful tradition the bridge permits.
West Montrose is part of Woolwich Township, Waterloo County. German settlers from Pennsylvania were among the first to settle in this part of Ontario at the invitation of Lord John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.
The horse- or oxen-driven wagon was the principal means of transportation for many of these courageous migrants from Pennsylvania who traveled the hundreds of miles over the Allegheny Mountains to the American side of the Niagara River. Confronted by the fast flowing Niagara River, the settlers caulked the seams of their wagons which enabled them to float across the river where they continued on to their new homeland in Waterloo county.
The Conestoga wagons which the Pennsylvania Germans used as their primary means of transportation were named after the Conestoga Valley in Pennsylvania where they were created. Unlike Hollywood motion picture portrayals, passengers were not normally seated at the front of the covered wagon, but rather on the horses or an outside seat extending from the side of the wagon allowing maximum cargo in the wagon. (See man sitting on side of wagon in photograph.)
The influence of the Pennsylvania settlers coming to Waterloo county is seen in names such as Conestoga Lake and Conestoga River which are located near the town of St. Jacobs.
In St.Jacobs, visitors linger the time away in delightful exploration. There you will find two large lovable Belgian horses, Buster and Jerry, anxiously waiting to escort you through the town in grand style of years past. Don't wait too long, both Buster and Jerry are sixteen years of age and looking forward to well earned retirement.
When in Waterloo County, watch for horse-drawn carriages dashing along the unpaved shoulders beside the local highways and thoroughfares. Be vigilant in respecting the right-of-way and way-of-life of the astonishing men and women of the Old Order who choose to follow their tradition and birthright. The Mennonite people possess the finest of human values. Ontario is blessed to have them in our midst.
When in St. Jacobs, be sure to visit the market located on the fringe of the town. There you will discover enchantments to please the visitor whether it's home cooking or the home made quilts offered by the surrounding farming residents who call this beautiful space home.
For the purpose of this publication, the photograph was taken from a distance, low light and non-frontal.
In West Montrose the Kissing Bridge is not hard to find but difficult to forget. Stay awhile. Plan to picnic in the small park just down the road from the bridge. Our heritage is precious. In 1975, the bridge was designated as a historical site.