Chief William Commanda Bridge

The Chief William Commanda Bridge (French: Pont Chef-William-Commanda), formerly the Prince of Wales Bridge, is a disused rail bridge in Canada, which spans the Ottawa River between Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec. It connected with the Bytown and Prescott Railway line just west of Lebreton Flats, and crosses the south channel of the river to Lemieux Island at the edge of Nepean Bay; it then continues across the northern channel into Quebec. Operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway for most of its history, it was bought by the City of Ottawa in 2005. Plans to incorporate it as part of an interprovincial public transportation link fell through and it is currently being renovated as a multi-use bridge.

Chief William Commanda Bridge
Ottawa rail bridge.JPG
Looking west to the Chief William Commanda Bridge
Coordinates45°24′56″N 75°43′40″W / 45.41556°N 75.72778°W / 45.41556; -75.72778Coordinates: 45°24′56″N 75°43′40″W / 45.41556°N 75.72778°W / 45.41556; -75.72778
CarriesNot in use
CrossesOttawa River, Lemieux Island
LocaleOttawa-Gatineau, National Capital Region, Canada
Official nameEnglish: Chief William Commanda Bridge
French: Pont Chef-William-Commanda
OwnerCity of Ottawa
DesignTruss bridge
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks1, but not in use
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Structure gaugeAAR

It is a multi-span Pratt truss bridge, consisting of six equal spans over the south channel, and seven spans over the north channel; the second-last span, proceeding northward, is longer by a factor of about 1.7.[citation needed]


The bridge was built by the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway[1][2] in 1880, named for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. At that time, it was one of the few crossings of the Ottawa River, and was one of the most valuable assets of the line, which was owned by the Quebec provincial government. The QMO&O continued to lose money, however, and it was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1882, which connected it with their other recent purchase, the Canada Central Railway. This connection gave the CPR a solid route from their westward line being built from North Bay to the ports of the St. Lawrence. The bridge was joined by the CPR's Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge in 1901, the second railway bridge to cross the river between Ottawa and Hull.

The bridge served well into the 20th century, but as rail transport diminished and more efficient routes became more common, the line saw less traffic. In 1999, the City of Ottawa leased the CPR line, including the bridge for the construction of the Trillium Line.[3] The bridge was used by rail traffic for the last time on July 26, 2001.[4]: 9 

In 2005, the bridge was disconnected from the tracks just before its approach on the Ottawa side; this was done for a water line project being built along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway as part of the Lebreton Flats revitalization.[citation needed]

In 2005, the City of Ottawa purchased the bridge and associated rail corridors for $11 million as part of a plan to link Ottawa and Gatineau's light rail systems. However, Mayor Jim Watson would later declare that this original plan was unworkable.[5]

The bridge has remained unused and the section of track between the Bayview Station and the bridge is overgrown. As the purchase of the bridge included the approaches on both sides, the City of Ottawa now owns property in Quebec.[3]


Chief William Commanda Bridge, south approach, July 2005

The bridge is now at the centre of controversy regarding current access and use by pedestrians. The disused bridge is often used illegally by pedestrians, sunset watchers and dog walkers, who have advocated it remain open for such active use.[citation needed]

On the other hand, city officials have been pointing out safety and other concerns related to the bridge for some time. Between January 1, 2005 and August 29, 2016 the Ottawa Police Service has received 51 calls about activities at the bridge, three of which resulted in charges being laid, though no complaints related to the structural safety of the bridge itself, rather to possible criminal activity occurring on the property.[6]

With City of Gatineau officials now showing great interest in the bridge as a transit link between the two cities,[7] modifications would need to be made, as there is only enough room for a single track on the bridge; the City of Ottawa has now permanently built over this rail infrastructure to create the new Trillium Line station at Bayview.[8]

In September 2016 the City of Ottawa spent $46,000 to install new chain-link fences to block entrance to the bridge, although the fence was breached shortly afterwards.[9] In September 2016, a pop-up picnic led by residents was organized in opposition to the proposed barricades.[10] As of the end of the year 2016, the city has no plans to convert the bridge into a pedestrian or cycling path, which it says will cost $10.5 million. Rather, their stated goal is to use the bridge as an interprovincial rail link, connecting OC Transpo’s Trillium Line with Gatineau’s rapid transit network, although there has now been permanent and illegal building over of this rail infrastructure by the City of Ottawa.[8] It was also proposed that this rail link might become part of a proposed commuter rail system.[11]

In February 2018, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that the city breached its duty as a rail line owner when it dismantled a section of tracks near the bridge in order to build a new entrance to Bayview Station of the new Light Rail System.[12] The CTA gave the City of Ottawa two options: to either try to sell a portion of the rail line leading to the bridge or to restore the tracks so they can accommodate rail traffic within 12 months. In statements, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson asserted that, "We don't have the funds to put rail across to Quebec at this point".[12] While there had been funding put aside for the work several years earlier, it has since been re-directed to a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal.[13]

In April 2019 (a federal election year), the Federal Cabinet issued an Order In Council rescinding the Canadian Transportation Agency's decision, meaning that the City of Ottawa would no longer need to appeal the order to repair the rail link,[14] also rejecting a petition from Moose Consortium Ltd., which wanted to use the bridge as part of a commuter rail project spanning the Ottawa River.[14] The order in council dated April 5 stated that "the agency's decision went against national policy because it would force a railway company to invest in an "unused and non-profitable railway line," or discontinue it permanently",[14] despite the Moose consortium indicating that it actively wanted to invest in this rail infrastructure.

As of June 2019, the City of Gatineau's current design for its planned Société de transport de l'Outaouais LRT system, which would launch in 2028, would see it cross the bridge to link to Ottawa's O-Train system at Bayview Station.[15] However, in September 2019, Ottawa Mayor Watson declared that the Prince of Wales bridge will “never” be used for interprovincial commuter rail, offering the explanation that it would be "far too congested to have so many people drop off at one of the busiest intersections in our LRT system", though without offering explanation as to why the recently-built station in question, which could have been designed to manage this commuter traffic, was effectively designed to block any future use of the railway.[16]

In December 2020, the City of Ottawa approved undertaking an Environmental Assessment study and the design of an interim multi-use pathway on the bridge.[17] In July 2021, Ottawa City Council committed to spending $14 million to upgrade the bridge into a pedestrian bridge, and officially renamed the bridge to the Chief William Commanda Bridge, in honour of William Commanda who was the chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation from 1951 to 1970.[18] $8.6 million was pledged to the project by the federal government.[5] Construction began in the fall of 2021, and the multi-use pathway is expected to be completed by the fall of 2022 with additional rehabilitation work being completed by 2024.[19]

In May 2022, the City of Ottawa was sued for $1.5 million in a negligence case involving the death of a 14-year-old boy who drowned after climbing through the fencing barring access to the bridge put up by the City and jumping into the Ottawa River. According to the family's lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, the City failed to take effective steps to prevent the public from accessing the bridge.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Railways of Ottawa: Hull - Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental". Colin Churcher's Railway Pages. Archived from the original on 2016-07-18.
  2. ^ "The Railways of Ottawa: Findings of the Circle". Colin Churcher's Railway Pages. Archived from the original on 2008-05-18.
  3. ^ a b "Property Acquisition - CP Rail Railway Corridor - Ottawa River to Leitrim Road". City of Ottawa Report to Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee and Council, 7 December 2004.
  4. ^ Churcher, Colin J. (January 2006). Roberts, Earl W. (ed.). "The Opening of the Prince of Wales Bridge". Branchline. Vol. 45, no. 1. Bytown Railway Society. pp. 6–10. ISSN 0824-233X. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Duffy, Andrew (May 3, 2022). "Family of Ottawa boy who died in jump from Prince of Wales bridge sues City of Ottawa for negligence". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
  6. ^ Willing, Jon (6 October 2016). "Ottawa police called to Prince of Wales Bridge 51 times — over 10 years". Ottawa Citizen. Postmedia. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  7. ^ Pfeffer, Amanda (20 September 2016). "'Take advantage of the timing': Hull-Aylmer MP wants Gatineau to jump on Ottawa tramway idea". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  8. ^ a b "City questioned over rail line removal for LRT work | CBC News".
  9. ^ Willing, Jon (21 September 2016). "Stop damaging the Prince of Wales bridge barriers, councillor pleads". Postmedia Network Inc. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  10. ^ Lofaro, Joe. "Ottawa residents stage pop-up picnic to save Prince of Wales rail bridge". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  11. ^ Moose Consortium
  12. ^ a b "Future of Prince of Wales Bridge still unclear after regulator's decision". CBC News. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  13. ^ "Funding for Prince of Wales Bridge transferred to canal project". Ottawa Citizen. 2015-12-11. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  14. ^ a b c "Cabinet overturns order to repair Prince of Wales Bridge | CBC News".
  15. ^ "Quebec pledges to fund Gatineau's light rail plans | CBC News".
  16. ^ "Adam: Never say 'never' to a rail link along the Prince of Wales bridge". ottawacitizen. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  17. ^ "Prince of Wales Bridge interim multi-use pathway". City of Ottawa. 2020-12-09. Archived from the original on 2021-02-22. Retrieved 2021-02-21.
  18. ^ "Former Prince of Wales Bridge gets renamed, and $14M in city funding". CBC Ottawa. 2021-07-07. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  19. ^ Planning, Real Estate and Economic Development Dept (2021-12-21). "Chief William Commanda Bridge multi-use pathway and rehabilitation project". Retrieved 2022-03-11.

External linksEdit