Saturday, May 05, 2007

Don't tear down the Kinsol Trestle
May 5, 2007

People have been debating the future of the Kinsol Trestle for a year now. I admit to barely paying attention to a word of it.
I guess it just didn’t seem like something I needed to care about. But then my partner and I went to see the trestle for ourselves last Sunday.
It’s spectacular. Tearing it down would be a terrible thing. Count me an instant convert to the “save the Kinsol” movement.
Perhaps it’s a recent trip to Europe that has me thinking about the importance of preserving history.
Had our global ancestors been even a fraction as hasty as us in tearing down history, I’d have missed out on the amazing feeling of stepping into the past. Deep thanks to several millennia’s worth of taxpayers who have willingly borne the cost of history’s upkeep.
The pyramids of Mexico and Egypt. Greek ruins. Ancient churches. England’s Roman baths. Nothing you can read about them, or watch on television, can ever come close to experiencing them first-hand. There’s nothing like it.
Even the places where great ugliness has happened are spellbinding. They can be unbearably hard to look at - a concentration camp, the Ghanian slave prisons - but we need them to remind us of times when we did the unthinkable.
Like so many of the wonders of the world, the Kinsol Trestle is both marvel and tragedy.
The trestle is a beauty, and a wonderful reminder of B.C.’s past. On the day we visited, the tight little river valley that the trestle spans was sunny and inviting. We walked up and down, to see the trestle from all angles, and I could feel the tremendous vision and hard work that must have gone in to getting it built.
But men died building the massive structure. On that front, the trestle also serves as a reminder of the immense challenge it would have been in 1921 to build a structure so grand, high above the valley floor.
The trestle has been through a heck of a lot since being brought to life, the last 28 years of which have been quite ignominious. Abandoned by its former railway owners in 1979 and already in a state of disrepair, the trestle has been profoundly neglected in intervening years.
Its fate was sealed in a report last year that concluded it was too wrecked to fix. The province is planning to spend $1.5 million to tear it down, and another $1.6 million through the B.C. pathway program Local Motion to build a different bridge.
I’m no engineer, but even my untrained eye could see that parts of the trestle are in rough shape. I don’t know whether it’s realistic to restore it to working shape again.
But that doesn’t mean we have to tear it down. If it simply isn’t feasible to restore the Kinsol Trestle as a working pathway, then by all means, let’s build a different bridge.
But why does the trestle need to be torn down to accomplish that? We might just change our minds one day about a full restoration, or find other ways to fund the work. Why not repair the worst of the damage right now and leave the trestle standing?
New Democrat MLA John Horgan was quoted a year ago saying that getting across the river is “more important than preserving rotting timber.”
It needn’t be either/or. We can choose to get people across the river and preserve history at the same time. Building a new bridge for cyclists and pedestrians would, in fact, provide incomparable views of a preserved Kinsol Trestle.
And it might even save money. The Cowichan Valley Regional District figures it would cost $6.2 million to restore the existing trestle to working order, and $4.2 million if you started from scratch and built a two-thirds replica of the trestle instead.
We could save at least $1.5 million right off by not tearing the trestle down. Meanwhile, if the trestle remains in place where everyone can continue to gaze at it as they cross the valley on the new bridge, you can opt for a cheaper, functional bridge style rather than a costlier replica.
In the end, though, it isn’t really be about the money. It’s about respecting that a massive 86-year-old trestle is a sight to see, and living testimony to a time when B.C. had big trees, big dreams and endless amounts of crazy ambition. We owe a duty to the future to look after the legacies of the past.
Don’t take my word for it. Go see the trestle for yourself - it’s just past Shawnigan Lake, and easy to get to (; click on “Map”).
The pictures don’t do it justice. Neither will a pile of rubble and a fancy new bridge marking the spot where the old trestle was torn down.

No comments: