Temporary Winter Bridges over the Siip Canal

The first bridge to span the Duluth Ship Canal, sketched in 1872 by Charles Johnson. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Besides the canal ferry service, beginning in the winter of 1872, a succession of temporary bridges were used to cross the canal in the late winter, between commercial shipping seasons.

The Duluth Minnesotian made the first historic record of a bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal with the simple statement, “The bridge over the ship canal on Minnesota Point remains undisturbed.” At the time this simply meant that shipping traffic on Lake Superior had yet to open, so the bridge—a temporary structure that was put up in the winter when the shipping season ended and came down when it began again in spring—was still up if anyone wanted to use it. On April 27 the newspaper explained that gale-force winds on the 25th had forced huge cakes of ice into the canal. The bridge was low enough, to cause a collision: “Two immense cakes, coming with all the force of the wind, and a strong current against the centre [sic] bent of the bridge, knocked it out; when the structure fell, it went out to sea along with the ice.”

In 1874 Duluthians spent $962 building a temporary suspension bridge “of rough wooden towers with cables and a six-foot-wide platform,” but workers didn’t complete it until February, two months before it had to be removed for the shipping season. When in place, the bridge (shown below in an 1874 sketch by Duluthian Charles Johnson) could barely handle a breeze and often “swayed dangerously” in the wind. It tossed so badly during storms that residents passed back and forth on “hands and knees.” From the 1870s to 1895 the temporary bridge was constructed and deconstructed every year—if nature didn’t take care of it as it did in 1872.

One of the temporary winter bridges over the Duluth Ship Canal, date unknown (Image: Zenith City Press)