New Chehalis River Bridge a concrete symbol of reconciliation

Members of the provincial government at Sts’ailes First Nation met for a bridge-opening ceremony for the Chehalis River Bridge off of Morris Valley Road on Friday, Nov. 25. (Adam Louis/Observer)Members of the provincial government at Sts’ailes First Nation met for a bridge-opening ceremony for the Chehalis River Bridge off of Morris Valley Road on Friday, Nov. 25. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Elder Nancy Charlie (traditional name Sel Ya:al)spoke about the new bridge and delivered a blessing during the bridge-opening ceremonies last week. (Adam Louis/Observer)Elder Nancy Charlie (traditional name Sel Ya:al)spoke about the new bridge and delivered a blessing during the bridge-opening ceremonies last week. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Chief Ralph Leon and MLA Kelli Paddon embrace during the opening ceremony honouring the literal and figurative bridge-building project. (Adam Louis/Observer)Chief Ralph Leon and MLA Kelli Paddon embrace during the opening ceremony honouring the literal and figurative bridge-building project. (Adam Louis/Observer)
MLA Kelli Paddon delivers a few words on behalf of herself and the provincial government. (Adam Louis/Observer)MLA Kelli Paddon delivers a few words on behalf of herself and the provincial government. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Dancers of all ages joined the celebration of the Chehalis River Bridge opening. (Adam Louis/Observer)Dancers of all ages joined the celebration of the Chehalis River Bridge opening. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Sts’ailes dancers shared the traditional Sasquatch dance. (Adam Louis/Observer)Sts’ailes dancers shared the traditional Sasquatch dance. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon and MLA Kelli Paddon pose before cutting the ceremonial ribbon, heralding the opening of the Chehalis River Bridge. (Adam Louis/Observer)Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon and MLA Kelli Paddon pose before cutting the ceremonial ribbon, heralding the opening of the Chehalis River Bridge. (Adam Louis/Observer)
The new Chehalis River Bridge replaces a one-lane wooden bridge with a two-lane structure, including a sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists. (Adam Louis/Observer)The new Chehalis River Bridge replaces a one-lane wooden bridge with a two-lane structure, including a sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists. (Adam Louis/Observer)
The former Chehalis River Bridge, which served the community for 72 years, has been replaced by a modern, two-lane equivalent. (File Photo)The former Chehalis River Bridge, which served the community for 72 years, has been replaced by a modern, two-lane equivalent. (File Photo)

A bridge spanning the mighty Chehalis River is much more than a solid piece of infrastructure.

The Sts’ailes First Nation welcomed members of the provincial government to an opening ceremony of the new Morris Valley Road bridge spanning the Chehalis River on Friday, Nov. 25.

Members of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the construction crew and local MLA Kelli Paddon were in attendance as Sts’ailes authorities and elders spoke about the old bridge and what the new bridge meant to the community.

The province started building the new bridge in mid-July. The new bridge replaced a single-lane, wooden bridge that stood the test of time for more than 70 years. Expanding to a two-lane bridge and replacing the wood structure with a more modern version creates safer, improved access to the Sts’ailes First Nation, Hemlock Valley residents and visitors to the area.

Sts’ailes Elder Nancy Charlie (traditional name Sel Ya:al) thanked the guests for their work.

“Thank you for what you bring here – your strong spirit, knowing and understanding that the respect is given to us,” she said. “(The new bridge) is something that was needed. We were just crossing the bridge the other day, my husband and I, and my husband said ‘Who would ever think this would be here today?’”

RELATED: Single-lane Chehalis River Bridge to be replaced with two-lane bridge this summer

The former bridge was built in 1950, approximately six kilometres north of Highway 7 on Morris Valley Road. The new bridge is 96 metres long, built on the downstream side of the former bridge site. The new bridge includes a sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists and ties seamlessly into the existing roadways.

Chief Ralph Leon said toward the last stages of driving or walking over the old bridge, there were always fears the bridge’s aging structure would give way or someone would be hurt.

“There were meetings and meetings that had to take place for this to happen, and we’re very grateful,” Leon said.

CAO and chief negotiator Willie Charlie said the bridge is so much more than a piece of infrastructure.

“When we talk about in today’s day and age about reconciliation, improving relationships with First Nations, this project should be used as an example,” Charlie said. He said the bridge connected an ancient village site on the south side of Chehalis Lake to the larger community. Interpretive signage is in the near future that will explain to visitors the significance of the site.

In addition to that important historical and traditional connection, the new bridge represents a safer community.

“You’ve set the standard,” Charlie said. “Anytime the government works with us or any industry people that work with us, you’ve set the standard that we’re going to strive for.”

Paddon delivered some words on behalf of the new premier David Eby and the Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming.

“There’s so much good work being done here, and this bridge will support that work,” Paddon said. “It was well past time to deliver on this, and I’m very honoured to be here to celebrate with everyone because it’s done, and the work is beautiful.”

Langley-based Dorosh Construction was awarded the $7.3-million project, falling within the expected completion date of fall 2022.


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adam.louis@ ahobserver.com

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