The city of Ottawa has gone through many changes over the years as buildings, streets, and bridges have been constructed, demolished, and rebuilt. The current shape and layout of the city is very different from what it was even a hundred years ago. The Plaza Bridge, a pedestrian and automotive bridge which crosses the Rideau Canal just south of the Ottawa locks, is one such landmark that has changed drastically over time.
In the place where the Plaza Bridge now stands there originally stood two bridges — the Sappers Bridge and the Dufferin Bridge. The Sappers Bridge was built in 1827, one of Ottawa’s first bridges, and was named so because it was constructed by the 15th Company of the Royal Sappers and Miners. It was joined by the Dufferin Bridge in the early 1870s, forming a triangle across the Rideau Canal.
At the start of the 20th century, a hole was created in Sappers Bridge in order to allow rail traffic to pass through and head onto a new station that was being built just east of the Rideau Canal. The entire area underwent extensive renovation during the early 1900s, which saw the construction of the Union Station as well as the Chateau Laurier hotel. As a result, rail traffic was re-routed under the bridge along the canal’s eastern side and onto the Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge and towards Gatineau.
In 1912, both the Dufferin Bridge and the Sappers Bridge were demolished. The newly-created bridge was named Plaza Bridge because, in bringing together Wellington Street and Elgin Street on its west side to merge with Rideau Street on the east side, it created an interesting ‘Y’ shape, designed to be used as an open public space. The resulting triangular plaza was named Connaught Park, after Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, who held the post of Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916. Today, the location is known as Confederation Square and is the site of the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Plaza Bridge is constructed of three masonry spans: the western span goes over a roadway along the western bank of the Canal; the central span lies over the Canal; and the eastern span runs over the former railway tunnel along the east bank of the Canal. The Plaza Bridge lies just north of the Mackenzie King Bridge, making it the northernmost bridge over the canal and giving anyone crossing it a stunning view of the Parliament buildings, the Ottawa Canal, and the Chateau Laurier.