BOB The Bridge

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Kootenay Lake

BOB The Bridge

By: Greg Nesteroff   |   Cover Photo: Dave Heath

No visit to Nelson is complete without a photo of BOB. That’s our Big Orange Bridge, which spans the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, connecting Nelson to the North Shore.

The BC Toll Highways and Bridges Authority built it to replace an overtaxed cable ferry at the same location that began operating in 1913. Premier W.A.C. Bennett cut the ribbon on Nov. 7, 1957 and the bridge instantly become a beloved local landmark, as over 4,000 cars crossed it that day. 

Program from the Nelson bridge opening in 1957.
Program from the Nelson Bridge opening in 1957. Courtesy of Greg Nesteroff.

BOB wasn’t originally orange, though; it was silver. But in the late 1960s, local traffic engineer Jack Kelsall decided a brighter colour was needed. The details are now hazy — was it to make it more visible to airplanes or to emulate San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge? — but either way, it helped cement the bridge’s iconic status.

A postcard showing BOB not long after it was built in 1957.
A postcard showing BOB not long after it was built in 1957.

In 2000, the Ministry of Transportation decided to repaint the bridge and asked for input from city council. They were adamant that the bridge remain orange. "It would be a bit of a disaster for the community if it were to be painted any other colour,” then-mayor Gary Exner told the Nelson Daily News.

The ministry accepted that advice, but only painted part of the bridge and their palette didn’t quite match the original. As a result, up close you’ll see the bridge actually has two hues: orange and pink.

Officially it’s known as the Nelson Bridge. The name BOB is a relatively recent addition to the local lexicon. Its first known appearance in print was on Feb. 9, 2000, when The Express newspaper wrote: “Known colloquially as the Big Orange Bridge, or simply b.o.b., the bridge is due for some upgrading.”

Former editor Stephen Harris wrote the story, but says he didn’t coin the phrase. He thought he might have heard it from Express publisher Nelson Becker, but Becker doesn’t think he came up with it either, so its true genesis is still a mystery. Either way, the name caught on; within months it was widely used.

Other trivia:

  • The bridge cost $4 million to build (the equivalent of $35 million today). 
  • When it opened, tolls were charged. It cost 10 to 50 cents to cross in a car, depending on how often you used it. Pedestrians and bicycles were free. The tolls were lifted in 1963.
  • The bridge is 628 meters (2,060 feet) long, while the main span is 148 meters (486 feet) long. 
  • The scissors used for the 1957 ribbon cutting are in the Touchstones Nelson artifact collection.
  • New restaurants and motels popped up on either end of the bridge, including an A&W on the north side and a Dairy Queen on the south. The latter is still in business seasonally and is one of the last remaining examples of an early drive-up restaurant in Canada. It’s on the city’s heritage register.

Explore our trip ideas for more on all there is to see and do in the region. We're looking forward to seeing your photos of BOB!

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