The Deh Cho Bridge: Making Connections

photo Jeroen Slagter — late-May 2012

On EDGE: Opinion

EDGE YK Online

December 4, 2012

by Jack Danylchuk

Everyone who has lived in the Territories has experienced a Mackenzie River Moment: elation when you arrived at the crossing just as the last truck rolled off the Merv Hardie, frustration if the ferry was just churning away.

Those moments are gone now that the Deh Cho Bridge is open, and Yellowknife is connected with the Rest of Canada, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A jubilant crowd watched on the last bitterly cold day of November as Premier Bob McLeod cut the ceremonial ribbon with help from Dave Ramsay, once a hectoring critic of the project, but now that he’s the minister responsible for the bridge, a believer in the worth of former NWT premier Joe Handley’s legacy project.

Premier McLeod hailed the bridge as an achievement that will provide benefits for generations to come, a safe, secure crossing regardless of weather, or season. And it opened just in time for the peak winter travel period, Ramsay said, giving certainty to holiday-season travelers.

It was an historic moment, honoured with a feast and fireworks – not quite as momentous as portrayed in the announcement from cabinet’s press office, which claimed the Mackenzie was the last of the world’s great rivers to be spanned – but a date to mark on the national calendar.

“This bridge gives us a more reliable transportation system and will connect the North Slave permanently to the south, and some people will say we are finally connected to the rest of Canada,” said Premier McLeod.

The feeling of being connected with the RoC may be like the unrequited passion of a teenage crush. With the cult following for television portraying drivers of ice roads and flights over frozen wilderness, opening the first bridge across Canada’s longest river is an event that should resonate beyond the Northwest Territories.

But it passed almost without notice – except for the CBC, which dispatched a reporter who delivered a lively account to the national news. The Toronto Star took note that the bridge would open, and recounted the difficulties that beset the project, and pushed its price past $200 million, but ignored the historic moment.

There was nothing in the Globe and Mail — which boasts that it is Canada’s national newspaper — until this week. The Globe’s erstwhile challenger, the National Post ignored the event entirely, nor was there a line in the Edmonton Journal, which once maintained a northern bureau, and ditto for Global National, which also had a correspondent in Yellowknife.

Maybe if Stephen Harper’s government had ponied up the $50 million that Handley thought it should chip in to connect Yellowknife with the RoC, the prime minister would have wanted to have his own Mackenzie River Moment, and the RoC would have felt connected with the North – just for that historic moment.

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