When the city dismantled the Cloverdale footbridge in 2016, it didn’t just remove an elevated walkway. It removed a piece of the city that for almost four decades made millions of scenic memories for Edmontonians of all ages — many of which were lovingly engraved into the bridge itself. That’s why so many local residents were upset when the new LRT line was announced, and why Darren Cunningham, co-founder of Urban Timber, wanted to give the bridge — or, at least, pieces of it — another life. It wasn’t easy.
“I’ll tell you, if I ever wanted support in a street fight, I would bring the residents of Cloverdale with me,” Cunningham laughs. “There were people willing to chain themselves to that bridge in order for it to not come down.” Those same people called Urban Timber, demanding to know what would happen to their beloved bridge’s wood and why a single company would end up profiting from it. Cunningham explained that it was an “all or nothing deal” from the city, and Urban Timber wanted the wood to remain here.
“I started talking with the community leagues and straightening that out with them, saying we’re on your side, we’re trying to save the wood, and our purpose is to give it back to the community, including a donated memorial bench. Once we showed them drawings of the bench, they were pretty excited about the project.
The process starts by removing the weather coating and hundreds of thousands of nails from about 500 16-foot spruce and fir planks. Only then can they be used to make something new, which is when the fun part starts for Urban Timber and the wood artisans with whom it works. About half the wood remains, ready for the chance to create new memories for residents who want something charming unique and precious — from desks to tables and chairs — in a way that only reclaimed wood from a former city landmark can be.
“You don’t think of it when you’re building it, because you’re building new products all the time,” Cunningham says. “But when you put it in somebody’s home, and they put their hands on it for the first time and say, ‘This is where I was when my partner proposed,’ or it’s where they used to walk across the River Valley to go to Folk Fest, when you see people realize they have a piece of history in their home, that’s… goose bumps.”
This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.