East Coulee CPR Bridge
The wooden C.P.R. âHowe Trussâ bridge over the Red Deer River at East Coulee was first built in 1936 only to be destroyed by heavy flooding and ice floes in April 1948. It was rebuilt to the same design soon thereafter. Even in the 1930s a wooden Howe Truss bridge was almost anachronistic. First patented in 1840 by Massachusetts millwright William Howe, they were primarily used in the 19th century for bridges across North America. The East Coulee bridge remains a rare example of wooden bridge architecture, and as such, merits proactive conservation measures.
The bridge has an important historical connection to Atlas No. 3 Coal Mine National Historic Site (the last in the Drumheller/Red Deer River valley). It provided the essential transportation link to the main rail lines across the Red Deer River. From the dual CPR/CNR branch line near the town of East Coulee, the bridge enabled trains to cross the river and service both the Monarch and the Atlas coal mines. It was also used by trains delivering coal, the primary domestic heating source, to communities throughout Western Canada. The Statement of Significance for the National Historic Site designation of Atlas No. 3 Coal Mine National includes the bridge as an important character-defining elelment.
Closed in the mid-1970s, the Atlas Mine was recognized as an Alberta Provincial Heritage Resource in 1989 and became a National Historic Site of Canada in 2001. The latter designation notes the significant role Atlas No. 3 Coal Mine played âin the history of the coal industry in Drumheller â¦ the most productive plains coalfield in Alberta and southeastern BC from WWI to the 1950s.â