Atherley Narrows

The Atherley Narrows which separate Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching is one of those Central Ontario locations steeped in history. Pre-historic fish weirs constructed here fed the local Mnjikaning natives and Samuel de Champlain passed through here way back in 1615. More recently, the Midland Railway constructed a swing bridge in 1873 which is the topic of today's post. Just after 10 p.m. on Saturday, 30th October, 2010 one or more arse-clowns set fire to the historic control building. Having been there a few months ago, I think it à propos to post pics from the day . . .

Here's the story from Jennifer Burden of the Orillia Packet & Times -

The abandoned Canadian National Railway (CN) control building for the Atherley Narrows swing bridge burned down in a suspicious fire on Saturday. Orillia firefighters were dispatched to the site where the Millennium Trail ends at at The Narrows, behind Crate's Lake Country Boats on Atherley Road, just after 10 p.m. on Saturday, 30th October, 2010. Numerous 9-1-1 calls reported a fire in the area, deputy fire chief Jeff Kirk said.

"(Callers) thought it was actually Crate's Marine because of the location of the building," Kirk said.

It took 12 fire fighters approximately three hours to extinguish the fire completely and crews had to return to scene on Sunday to deal with further hot spots. The fire was brought under control quickly, Kirk said, but because the building was so old and dried out, it collapsed shortly after personnel arrived at the scene, making it difficult to extinguish entirely.

"We had a terrible time getting at the timbers underneath all the rubble," he said.

The fire has been deemed suspicious because there were no inhabitants, no power and no utilities of kind at the site, he added.

Frank Kehoe, Orillia native and railway enthusiast, said the structure was built in 1873 by Midland Railway, which later joined the Grand Trunk Railway and then the Canadian National Railway. His great-grandfather, Francis Gaudaur, was a Midland Railway surveyor and one of the swing bridge's first keepers. His childhood home backed onto the railroad tracks close to the swing bridge and he fondly remembers visiting the swing bridge's control building and whoever was operating it "hundreds of times," as a kid, he said. He remembers the historic, two-storey wood tower as being simple, with no wallpaper or drywall, and nothing in it but a wood stove on the main floor and a lookout on the second.

"It's a damn crime because it should have been a historic building to begin with. It's in so many photographs of historic value," Kehoe said. "I hope they catch the kids that did it."

In recent years, there has been talk about restoring the site of the old swing bridge with plans of building a pedestrian bridge in its place connecting the Orillia and Ramara trails. The charred remains of the historic structure have been turned over to the CN Police, owners of the property, whose responsibility it is to clear the debris. Julie Senecal, CN spokesperson, said CN would hire a local contractor to remove the debris in the next few days.

The bridge has been locked in the open position since 1996 when CN abandoned the line into Orillia and lifted the trails.