Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time to remove the snow tires.

Londoners are yearning for spring and eager to leave winter behind. The temp hits 10 degrees Centigrade Saturday and the walking trail at Springbank Park was packed. Folks were walking, jogging, cycling and skate boarding along the wide, paved roadway. And not only was the pathway crowded. The playground was filled, the swings and slides all in use.

It is time to remove the snow tires.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A palace worthy of the Roman Catholic Bishops

When I moved to London, I lived in an area once known as Petersville. It was a suburb of London built on the low lying land across the Thames River from London proper.

When I went for a walk about the neighbourhood I would cross the North Branch of the Thames River at the Blackfriars Bridge. Above the large wrought iron span, overlooking the Petersville and Blackfriars neighbourhoods, there was a large and somewhat rundown looking white home with massive columns gracing the front.

I have since learned that the magnificent home was designed by a local architect, William Robinson, and it originally presented a less grandiose appearance. The massive columns were added before the home was donated to the Roman Catholic Church to be used as the new Bishop's Residence.

Reportedly, the donor, John Donally of Buffalo, New York, didn't find the original Italianate look regal enough for the bishops of London.

Today, thanks to some creative thinking, the old home has been converted into four condominiums and the structure may be around for many years to come.

Friday, March 29, 2013


The blur in the image is caused by shooting through the kitchen window.

Robins, cardinals, mourning doves: they have all returned. This afternoon my wife and I saw our first chipmunk. I don't think there can be any argument. Despite the snow that still dots the city, I think it's safe to say, "Spring is here!"

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Blackfriars Bridge: Hasn't it earned its retirement?

Pedestrian walkway is original, the second railing is a modification.

It's time to put the Blackfriars Bridge out of its misery — and make no mistake about it, the beautiful, heritage structure is suffering. The passing years, 137 to be exact, have taken their toll.

Decorative caps are missing from fasteners on the walkway barrier, original iron bracings are bent and distorted, the structure has been modified for pedestrian safety and overall bridge integrity.

Some decorative caps covering fasteners are missing.
London's Blackfriars Bridge is a bowstring through-truss bridge built in 1875 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company (WIBC) of Canton, Ohio. With a main span of 225 feet, the bridge in London can brag it sports the longest span of any remaining bowstring truss bridge in North America.

Bowstrings are among the rarest types of truss bridges today but they enjoyed a brief period of popularity from about 1855 into the 1880s.

During that period, thousands of wrought iron bowstring truss bridges were produced by numerous American bridge builders but two Ohio-based manufacturers stand out: WIBC of Canton and King Iron Bridge, King Manufacturing Company, Cleveland. The bowstring was the most commonly erected all-metal bridge of the 1870s and both Ohio companies sold their own patented bowstring designs.

In 1875 not one but two WIBC designed and fabricated bridges were erected over the Thames River in London, Ontario: The Blackfriars Bridge and a sister bridge, the Victoria, at the southern end of Ridout Street. The Victoria was replaced in 1926.

Replacement support for upper handrail is a serious mismatch.
Both bridges were manufactured in Ohio and transported by rail to London. These were the first metal bridges to be erected in London.

Using some 9000 lbs. of wrought iron and cast iron, a bridge like the Blackfriars gives a whole new meaning to the warning "some assembly required." Often the factory sent along an engineer to assist with construction.

Contrary to local folklore, the London bridge is not the only wrought iron bowstring truss bridge still carrying vehicular traffic in North America. There are at least six others but not one carries the amount of daily traffic endured by the hard-working London span.

I believe asking a century old, and then some, bridge to carry 4000 vehicles a day 365 days a year is foolish. Think of the damage that winter road-salt alone inflicts on this treasure. And make no mistake, the London bridge is a treasure. The Boner Road Bridge in Indiana, built in 1869, has been completely restored. Yet, it is only asked to carry limited traffic.

Boner Bridge, a three span bowstring truss, has been completely restored.

And the Boner Bridge is not the only bowstring that has been lovingly restored. There are others but with one big difference: Most were restored and then retired to a future of pedestrian traffic only. I know of 20 bowstring truss bridges that have been re-purposed for pedestrian/cyclist use only.

Restored Rodrick Bridger relocated to university campus.
The Rodrick Bridge, built in 1872, was removed from it original location over Wills Creek, Coshocton County, to be restored and relocated in 1998 to Ohio State University-Newark Campus where it has been re-purposed for pedestrians and cyclists.

One of my favourite stories is the one surrounding the Old Richardsville Road Bridge in Kentucky. The old road and thus the bridge receive only limited use. Why: There is a new Richardsville Road.

Old Richardsville Rd. Bridge still carries vehicular traffic.
A gentleman living on the old road, David Gavin, has assumed the upkeep of the beautiful, neighbourhood bridge. He has spent $175,000 of his own money replacing the deck with treated pine and replacing deteriorating iron rivets. A three span bridge made in 1889 by the King company, it's a beauty. David Gavin can take a well-earned bow.

The Blackfriars Bridge, with its 225-foot clear span, eliminated the intermediate supports required by the previous wooden bridges. In theory, the river-spanning length minimized the risk of a wash out caused by spring floods. It was a good theory; The Blackfriars Bridge is entering its 139th year of service.

It's time to find our beautiful, heritage bridge a new home. At the very least, let's move it a few feet up or down river — which ever makes the most sense. Let's restore our wrought iron work of art and craft. Let's give our now-rare-beauty another century or more of life.

Remember the five Rs:

  1. Remove it
  2. Restore it
  3. Relocate it
  4. Re-purpose it
  5. Reuse it

Remove it, restore it and reserve it for walkers and cyclists only.


The first three pictures (below) show the wooden bridges that once served the area. Note the mid river supports required by all the wooden structures.The last picture is an early image of the Blackfriars Bridge still in use today.

Note the in-river supports required by the wooden bridges at this location.

Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library, London, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Another photo from The Tree of Light

Here is another shot from The Tree of Light show. I wonder if the city could put the show on again in the summer when the warmer weather would encourage more folk to come downtown for the viewing.

Of course, the figure skating theme might be one strike against a summer showing.   :-(

Monday, March 18, 2013

They call it 3D projection mapping; I call it cool.

The show was called The Tree of Light and it was part of the City of London's celebration of the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. The skating competition was held inside the city's Budweiser Gardens arena and the high-tech light show was held on the outside of the arena. Both were steeped in the wow-factor.

The neatest illusion of the light show was the "unwrapping of the arena." That was just so cool. But there were lots of other bits of absolutely gorgeous eye-candy. No surprise here as the show was done by the well-known Canadian company specializing in these shows called the Moment Factory out of Montreal, Quebec.

There has been a lot of controversy about the championships and whether or not hosting them was worth it. But, the argument is based on a false dichotomy. Hosting these events is not question of profit vs. loss.

These events rarely return big bucks to the host communities. What they do do is put a town under a stress test. Can the community be trusted to host a big, complicated event and pull it off smoothly, professionally, without a hitch? This is the feather-in-the-cap award and London walked away a winner.

The Budweiser Gardens arena is a fine arena. And it is run very professionally. It has been said to be among the top fifty entertainment complexes of its type in the world. The smooth delivery of support for the figure skating event certainly lends credence to that reputation.

Some days I am proud to say I'm from London.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

London's jet d'eau in winter

The Walter J. Blackburn Memorial Fountain at the forks of the Thames shoots recycled river water from seven stainless steel jets daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. winter and summer. Financed by a $450,000 donation from the Blackburn estate, the fountain was the realization of a decades-old dream of the late Walter and Marjorie Blackburn. It may be inspired by the 'jet d'eau' in Geneva, Switzerland, but the London fountain is not a copy of the Swiss one. Google the Geneva jet d'eau and you will appreciate the fine design of the London installation.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring is in the air

The temperature hit 14-degrees Centigrade today in London, Ontario. Nice. The snow is melting, the roads are bare and folk can be seen walking everywhere throughout my neighbourhood.

You might notice in the above picture that people walk both on the sidewalk and on the street. A modern suburb, the streets are laid out in crescents and courts, with a few long, meandering roads servicing all. The heavy traffic is on the long, meandering roads. The remainder, the feeder streets are relatively quiet. For that reason, people often ignore the sidewalks.

I have touched on this in the past, but I'm going to flog this one more time. Suburban neighbourhoods like mine are walkable places. It is often a myth that downtown cores are more walkable places to live than the suburbs.

In fact, if you think about it, many downtown cores are horrible places to walk. Few stores to walk to but a gauntlet of street beggers that must be run.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Costco moves massive amounts of product

I hated Costco. I could not understand why thousands of Londoners (London, ON) packed the large warehouse-like store every weekend. Then my wife went there with a friend with a membership. My wife saw the prices and I saw the quality of the stuff she brought home. I understood.

Still, I resisted going to Costco. I wouldn't even go with her friend. And then I came across an article in The New York Times: How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart. I try to never buy anything at Wal-Mart.

Google Costco yourself. What you find may surprise you. It surprised me.

I've now been to the giant, warehouse store. I bought pickles. Montreal made pickles. Canadian made pickles. Costco didn't seem to carry those awful made-in-India pickles. The Montreal pickles are  wonderful except for one drawback. The jar is warehouse sized. The big question is "Can I eat all these pickles before they go soft?" If you have to toss 'em, they aren't a bargain.

So, I also picked up some Montreal smoked meat. It too was very good and there was enough to make lots of Reubens.

I went to the locally owned Angelo's and got some proper freshly baked bread, some deli mustard, some good sauerkraut and some real Swiss cheese. I returned home to make Reubens.

Interesting, I thought. Thanks to my Costco purchases I spent a small bundle at Angelo's.