August 18, 1917: Official Opening of the “Outlaw Bridge”

On this day in 1917, representatives of Rotary clubs from Superior, Duluth, Port Arthur, and Fort William met in Grand Marais to celebrate the official opening of the “Outlaw Bridge” at the international border along the Pigeon River between the U. S. and Canada. Those groups, along with businessmen from Grand Marais, knew it would require a joint effort of Canadian and U.S. governments to build an official bridge over the border, required by international treaty. So they pulled together $5,000 and built themselves a wooden bridge to connect the two nations. Officially known as the “Pigeon River Bridge,” it was unofficially called the “Outlaw Bridge.” Businesses soon popped up on either side of the bridge, particularly in Canada once Prohibition was passed in the U. S. The Outlaw Bridge soon had another meaning to its name, as it became a a bootleggers’ gateway to the U.S. When they caught a motorist transporting alcohol, officials would break the bottles against a boulder dubbed “crying rock.” The bridge was destroyed and replaced in 1930, and later Port Arthur and Fort William joined to become Thunder Bay.

The “Outlaw Bridge” between Minnesota and Ontario. (Image: Lake County Historical Society)