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Book records Fort Providence history
GNWT commissioned book highlights Deh Cho Bridge construction

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 11, 2014

Everyone has a story about the time they spent crossing the Mackenzie River either by ferry or ice bridge near Fort Providence, says author Bill Braden.

NNSL photo/graphic

Bill Braden, author of Bridging the Dehcho, with Pearl Leishman in Fort Providence at the launch of his book last week. - photo courtesy Pearl Leishman

Those stories range from vehicle breakdowns, getting marooned, to the ferry grinding up against the edges of the route cut through the ice during a cold and foggy night, Braden said.

He hopes his latest book, Bridging the Dehcho, will help chronicle those stories for both locals and tourists.

"I really hope it is a popular book among those residents who lived through the ferry stage. Everyone has a ferry story," he said.

The book, released during a ceremony in Fort Providence last week, was commissioned by the GNWT to capture the construction of the Deh Cho Bridge.

Bridging the Dehcho's 92 pages include 200 photos by Braden, a former journalist and MLA for Great Slave.

The launch at the community hall drew about 25 people.

Premier Bob McLeod and Transportation Minister Tom Beaulieu were expected to be there but didn't make it.

"The Mackenzie River and the people in the region surrounding the Deh Cho are important parts of our heritage," said Beaulieu in a press release announcing the book launch.

"Long before highways were built through the NWT, the river provided a critical connection for cultural and economic activities. We carry on that tradition today and we tell the stories of those who worked along the crossing."

The book was written for both residents of the region and tourists passing through who might want to learn more about the area and the bridge.

Braden said in an interview with Deh Cho Drum, when the idea of building the bridge was first raised, no one realized how sophisticated a project it would turn out to be.

It took seven years to get to the construction phase and then six years to build it.

He visited the bridge construction site about 10 times over three years.

"Every time I visited there, it was a different site," he said of what he saw.

As Braden began recording the massive project, he said he knew the scope of the book had to expand to cover the history of the community, the Mackenzie River crossing and the bridge construction.

"We wanted to cover the evolution of the community," he said.

The book has five chapters the cover the period from pre-contact through the arrival of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the fur traders and missionaries, up to the the crews who built the ice bridges and kept the ferry running across the river.

"(Fort) Providence is a very historic place," Braden said.

One aspect of the book work that he said stands out was when he attended a healing camp a few kilometres outside the community.

Middle school students go to the camp at the beginning of the school year where there's a lot of physical and cultural schooling.

"It stands out in my mind because it gave me a chance to get close to the young people and get some of the teachings of the elders," Braden said.

Looking back two years after the bridge was finished, does Braden think it was it worthwhile?

He said yes, though he acknowledges there is a wide range of opinion on the matter.

"I'm glad it's there."

He said the bridge reduces the risk of spills that could endanger the environment and makes travel more predictable.

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