The True North Rotary Club is one step closer to boosting the city’s heritage after most of a bridge and signage project at the Back Bay Cemetery was completed last month.

“We’ve got the main span bridge finished,” said club director Michael Kalnay after the latest efforts on May 17. “We still have to do the landscaping and the signage and clean up the site and get rid of the old bridge. And we still have to raise some money.”

Both the Rotary Club True North and Guy Architects made social media posts earlier this month noting their progress on a bridge project at Back Bay Cemetery.
photo screenshot from

The club has been looking after the heritage cemetery site for 10 years, particularly with site maintenance that includes cutting grass, trimming trees and other clean-up efforts.

Kalnay explained the club began to notice the old bridge that crosses the creek into the cemetery had been deteriorating and was buried in ice three years ago. It was soon decided to replace it with a new bridge higher up the hill and away from the shoreline to give visitors safer and easier access to the cemetery.

Kalnay said the club submitted a proposal to Yellowknife’s 100 Men Who Give a Damn for funding to cover the final bills of the project and complete signage. Results from that proposal were expected this week.

Most of the project, however, has depended heavily on corporate sponsorship and donations as well as more than 1,000 volunteer hours, Kalnay said.

The new bridge measures 65 feet and the clear span is 45 feet.  The old bridge was 24 feet end to end.

Much of the work for a new bridge at the Back Bay Cemetery – also known as the Pioneer Graveyard – has been completed after much work over the past year by the True North Rotary Club.. The bridge includes a new deck and steel structure holding the piece together.
photo courtesy of Michael Kalnay

“Guy Architects did all the engineering and design work and put all the stamps and stuff on there and so they’re the biggest donors in terms of the time,” Kalnay said. “Acasta Heliflight did nearly a dozen flights in all together. The city donated the decking material and Northland Utilities donated the big 65 foot poles and all the cables.”

Paul Bros. Nextreme Inc. donated about half of the steel needed and will be compensated for the other half, Kalnay said.

There were also several more businesses and individuals that have contributed and the Rotary Club is looking to recognize them with nearby signage as part of the bridge project.

Much of the focus of the project has taken place over the last two years, Kalnay explained.

Last fall, the club built the piers for the bridge last fall and in February, the club had several materials loaded by helicopter.

Acasta Heliflight made eight trips from the Giant Mine public boat launch to the Back Bay Cemetery to carry two 65 foot Northern Utilities poles and six bags of riprap to the site. The site required the flights as it is remote with no road connection. Accessing the site is a lengthy walk from the nearby Yellowknife Ski Club or across the ice from Old Town.

In April and May, work included much of the decking and steel superstructure construction.

Darin Smith, left, and Wayne Guy chamber the beams for the new bridge earlier this month.
photo courtesy of Michael Kalnay

Kalnay said the hope had been to have the grand opening of the bridge this month – June- to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rotary Club in Yellowknife, but some small projects remain. The club wants to add signage that includes the history of the cemetery, some mapping information and possibly trail markers.

Kalnay said the design of the bridge is expected to last 50 years, as the club had geotechnical engineering and three-dimensional graphics engineering done to find the right location to place it. It is designed to adjust three feet up and down due to the possibility of the ground shifting, he added.

The main point of the project is to promote both the historical character of Yellowknife as well as to help foot traffic through the area.

“It’s a historical place, but it’s also a serious touristy location as people walk through there to the ice caves,” he said. “So the reason for us building the bridge is to make the place accessible in the summer. In the winter we want to keep the foot traffic to the ice caves out of the cemetery and up the side of the draw instead.”

Wayne Guy, owner of Guy Architects said he was impressed with the array of community groups and individuals who came together to see the project was built over several months.

“I think it was a great project and a very ambitious project for a group of volunteers,” he said, noting “heavy contributions” from businesses like Guy Architects, Acasta Heliflight, and Camco, among numerous others.

“It was a great community effort considering we built it during the winter. Sometimes during the winter and with social distancing rules, we had a few challenges in terms of working safely, but it I thought that it was done really quite splendidly.”

Guy said he is looking forward to the bridge accommodate visitors to the site who quite heavily use the landscape and trail system in the summers and winters.


Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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