A well-recognized structure among the islands is The Thousand Islands Bridge, operated by The Thousands Islands Bridge Authority (“TIBA”). A USA-Canada crossing had been the dream of many. However, what is not recognized is how a Canadian corporation played a role in its creation.
The American Span, Thousand Islands International Bridge
A bridge spanning the St. Lawrence in the islands had been a dream for many years. A rail link planned in the early 1900’s did not materialize. Interest increased during the 1920’s and by 1928 a motion was presented in the New York legislature to form a bridge corporation. A similar bill in Canada failed likely because it did not include a Canadian partner.
John (Jack) Mitchell (no known relation to Grant T. Mitchell who spearheaded the bridge construction in the United States) was at the time private secretary to Sir Robert Borden, Canada’s former Prime Minister. A native of Lansdowne Village, Mitchell took an interest in promoting a road connection to the United States.
In 1930 a meeting was organized in Lansdowne Village which selected a committee to look into the possibility of building a bridge. The committee was impressive with membership including Canadian Senator Harold Code, Ottawa lawyers Arthur Boyce and George Acheson as well as Lansdowne businessman David Haig.
Soon after a similar meeting was held in Watertown in 1931. Despite significant local support, the Canadian government refused to consider bridge construction as a public-works project.
In September 1932, Mitchell and his committee members met in Ottawa. They applied for Ontario incorporation of the “Thousand Islands Bridge Company” (TIBC). Following some difficulty in securing financing, the Ontario incorporation was granted in April, 1933, with a Dominion of Canada charter being received in May, 1934.
There were 5000 authorized shares at a value of $10 each. One share was subscribed to each of the five committee members who were the principal and only shareholders as well as all being corporate directors.
The Company’s head office was located, in Boyce’s Ottawa office at 48 Sparks Street. It appears that Mitchell did most of the negotiations, lobbying, and publicity, and he was soon to submit a claim for his time spent on bridge-related activities, going back to 1930! In fact, he requested a priority claim on profits of $23,500. His claim was rebuffed by his fellow shareholders.
Following efforts by Brockville’s Member of the Ontario Legislature, George T. Fulford, a road-construction contract was agreed to in May of 1933.
Robinson and Steinman of New York, an engineering firm, were engaged on May 22, 1933 for the project in cooperation with their US partner The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority.
What is most interesting about the company was that it sold its franchise to construct the bridge to its American partner before construction began.
In 1936 all powers of the Bridge Company were vested and transferred to The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority and the terms of sale were agreed upon on Jan. 27, 1937 for the sum of $65,000. The first payment of one half of the price was made on May 11, 1937 and a dividend of $3000 was paid to each of the five shareholders.
In April 1938, Robinson and Steinman reported that the Rift Bridge was near completion and that 28 of 74 suspension cables were in place on the American side with the Canadian side having 14 of 74 suspension cables in place. The steel for the approaches was in place save for the curve at the north end of the bridge. The curve was left until last with the hope that it would be changed to a straight descent. Why? There was a rumour indicating that the straight descent option was due to Mitchell’s dream of having the bridge connect to a highway to Ottawa and said highway would pass through his farm.
J.D.W. Darling, owner of the Canadian-mainland site, noted in his diary that he sold the land for $3000.
The dedication of the bridge took place on the Rift Bridge August 15, 1938 with US President Franklin Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King in attendance.
The rebuffing of Jack Mitchell’s claim for services was not settled until March of 1939 when a court hearing was held in Brockville. Mitchell lost his case. On February 22, 1940 the final report of the liquidator to wind up the company was filed in the Office of the Registrar in Ottawa. The end came with a final disbursement of funds. Each shareholder ended up receiving $7,768 - definitely not bad for a Depression-era investment of $10.
From ground-breaking ceremonies to completion, the Thousand Islands Bridge system took sixteen months which was ten weeks ahead of schedule. The total cost was $3,050,000. In its early years, the system handled about 150,000 crossings. Today, the number is over 2,000,000.
by Alan Lindsay
Alan Lindsay is a retired teacher who grew up in the Gananoque area. He can trace his roots to 1789 and I believe that he is not, as he claims, an "amateur" historian and genealogist, and we are most thankful for his interest in the early families of the Thousand Islands area. He is a popular speaker, a long-time member of the Leeds and Thousand Islands Historical Society, and writer.
Author’s note: I put this story together from documents that belonged to my grandfather’s half-brother, David Haig, a TIBC director. I welcome additional information, on the TIBC, that anyone might have. I can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org