Tour Our Heritage Bridges
The history of the Kootenay Lake area can be told through its bridges. Many of the area’s historic bridges are accessed along running, biking and hiking trails. They tell tales of old railway routes, communities that existed before our hydroelectric dams were built, and to an earlier era when sternwheelers plied the waters of the Columbia River and Kootenay Lake.
Big Orange Bridge (BOB) in Nelson, BC
The one iconic bridge you’ll immediately notice as you enter Nelson is "BOB", our Big Orange Bridge traversing Kootenay Lake and connecting Nelson to the North Shore (Balfour, Kaslo and beyond). The bridge is a favourite for cyclists, walkers and joggers, with wide sidewalks and incredible views up and down the lake.
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. 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? Either way, it helped cement the bridge’s iconic status.
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.
- 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.
Original BOB story by Greg Nesteroff
Kaslo River Trail and Kaslo Trailblazers Bridge
Opened in 2008, the Kaslo River Trail is a favourite walking and hiking spot for residents and visitors. The picturesque Kaslo River Trail features a North and South section and two beautiful magenta bridges: The Trailblazers' Bridge and the Unity Bridge.
One lovely way to experience the heritage of Kootenay Lake is by traversing our bridges or meandering along our trails and roads. Railroad trestle bridges along the Greath Northern Trail and Burlington Rail Trail are just two ways to get outside and see our gorgeous countryside. Among other bridges in the area are the Cottonwood Creek Bridge, Kaslo Bridge, Coffee Creek Bridge, the old Taghum Bridge and Fletcher Falls Bridge.