The 1905 foot Fredericton Walking Bridge (the old rail bridge) that connects Fredericton’s North and South sides as it spans across the mighty Saint John River has been renamed Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge.
Construction of the first railway bridge at Fredericton, from south side looking north (Gibson Leather on north side of the river to the centre right of photo), 1888. Barges and first stone pier in evidence.
The structure that is known in 2016 as the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge has a rich history. Its genesis can be traced back to the railway bridge, the construction of which was completed in 1888. After the original bridge was damaged during a freshet in 1935, it was replaced and reopened in 1938. Gibson Leather, associated with the bridge, was officially incorporated by November 2, 1877, as evidenced by an announcement in that day’s Daily Telegraph. The founding members were listed as John A. Beckwith, E. A. Berton, A. B. Gardner, C. W. Beckwith, James A. MacCausland, Harry Beckwith, Alexander Gibson, and Benjamin Close.
William Wellington (Bill) Thorpe (1933-2006) was a prominent figure in the community for various reasons. He had a lengthy tenure at Fredericton High School, where he served as a teacher and vice principal. A sports enthusiast, Bill was actively involved in playing, coaching, and promoting rugby. He also had a stint as a municipal politician, serving as a City Councilor and Deputy Mayor of Fredericton for several years. In 1972, he founded the Fredericton Heritage Trust and was a board member.
Perhaps most notably, Bill Thorpe was a staunch advocate for walking trails across the city and province, earning him the title of the father of the Fredericton Trail System. He envisioned transforming abandoned rail beds into safe, recreational pathways for residents and visitors in Fredericton. To realize this dream, he established the Fredericton Trails Coalition and drew in colleagues inspired by his commitment, effort, and unwavering resolve. His contributions have left a lasting legacy in Fredericton’s rich heritage, a top-tier trail network.
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