Rotten wood, insect damage discovered after Fort Gibraltar walkway collapse, documents reveal | CBC News

Rotten wood, insect damage discovered after Fort Gibraltar walkway collapse, documents reveal | CBC News

Manitoba

A rotted support beam and possible damage from carpenter ants were among several issues discovered after an elevated wooden walkway at Winnipeg’s Fort Gibraltar collapsed during a school field trip earlier this year, city documents obtained by Radio-Canada through a freedom of information request reveal.

Photos of insects on structure, design plans for prior repairs obtained through freedom of information request

Caitlyn Gowriluk · CBC News

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Sections of a raised wooden walkway are seen broken away and lying on the ground.

Broken sections of the raised wooden walkway at Fort Gibraltar can be seen lying on the ground. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A rotted support beam and possible damage from carpenter ants were among several issues discovered after an elevated wooden walkway at Winnipeg’s Fort Gibraltar collapsed during a school field trip earlier this year, city documents obtained by Radio-Canada through a freedom of information request reveal.

Those issues were detailed following inspections of the site in the city’s St. Boniface area after the walkway collapsed in May — an incident that sent 18 people to hospital and allegedly left one boy at risk of being permanently disabled.

One inspection of the walkway done hours after it collapsed noted it appeared a “supporting beam was rotten and gave away,” leading to two sections collapsing within the north side of the fort.

Another inspection the next day — which the document said took a closer look at beams, columns and the wooden palisade fence surrounding the site — found “evidence of insect damage (possible carpenter ants)” and “general wood rot” in a number of areas.

The northeast corner of the walkway, structural components and the fence were also noted to be “more worn than other areas,” while stairs, handrails and guardrails showed “significant damage,” the document said. 

Insects that appear to be ants on a piece of wood.

This photo obtained from the City of Winnipeg through a freedom of information request shows insects crawling on a wooden structure at the city’s Fort Gibraltar, a day after an elevated wooden walkway there collapsed during a school field trip. (City of Winnipeg)

Raymond Garand, who worked as Festival du Voyageur’s chief operating officer for more than 20 years before leaving the organization in 2016, said in a Tuesday interview that the walkway and surrounding fence required constant upkeep during his time there.

That included repairs that were completed around 2006 to replace parts of the structure because the wood was rotting, he said.

Garand said the organization also had to change a few planks on the elevated walkway every year because of rot. He also said he regularly treated the structure with a wood preservative product.

Walkway collapse

The walkway collapsed while a group of 10- and 11-year-old students from St. John’s–Ravenscourt School were on a field trip to the site on the morning of May 31, sending 17 children and one adult to hospital.

A total of 28 people were assessed at the scene, and three of the children taken to hospital were in unstable condition. 

Most of the injuries they suffered were orthopedic-related and none were severe or life-threatening — and only one injured boy had to stay in hospital to get orthopedic surgery for a fracture, officials said at the time.

WATCH | Drone footage shows collapsed bridge at Fort Gibraltar in St. Boniface:

Drone footage shows collapsed bridge at Fort Gibraltar in St. Boniface

Featured VideoOne boy requires surgery for broken bones after a school trip turned into a nightmare in Winnipeg this morning. The grade 5 classes from St. John’s-Ravenscourt were at Fort Gibraltar on a platform when it collapsed. 17 children and one adult were taken to hospital with broken bones and other orthopedic injuries after falling 4 to 5 metres.

One of the injured children’s parents later filed a lawsuit in connection with the incident, alleging their son might be permanently disabled after falling from the walkway and accusing the Festival du Voyageur and the City of Winnipeg — which owns the site managed by the non-profit — of negligence.

After the walkway collapsed, the city said it directed the Festival du Voyageur to retain a professional engineer to assess the entire complex for any unsafe conditions and do any necessary repairs, but did not say what caused the collapse.

Both the city and the festival declined to comment.

Last city inspection followed ‘non-structural repairs’

The documents obtained through the freedom of information request also shed some light on the city’s previous statements that the Fort Gibraltar site had last been repaired in 2004 and inspected by the city in 2006.

A report dated Oct. 28, 2004, details a plan for “non-structural repairs” to be made to the palisade wall at the north side of the park.

That included replacing stringers, treads of stairs and rotten beams on sections of the wall. 

Black and white design plans for a walkway.

A report obtained through a freedom of information request details a 2004 plan for ‘non-structural repairs’ to be made to the palisade wall at the north side of the park, including replacing stringers, treads of stairs and rotten beams. (Festival du Voyageur/City of Winnipeg)

Two inspections — in November 2004 and March 2005 — found that retrofit work had not yet begun. By April 5, 2006, an inspection found all repairs to the structure’s stairs and guardrails were complete.

The Festival du Voyageur, which holds an annual winter event at Fort Gibraltar celebrating the area’s fur-trade history, said last week it plans to dismantle the elevated walkway and the wooden palisade fence surrounding it.

President Eric Plamondon said the organization’s board determined the teardown would be the best way to proceed with the goal of ensuring the site can reopen to the public in time for its February festival.

Plamondon said the Fort Gibraltar site will remain closed until the organization is satisfied it’s safe to reopen it to the public.

He said the plan is to begin dismantling the structures shortly, but did not have specific details about exactly when that would happen or how much it might cost.

Fort Gibraltar is a 1978 replica of two earlier forts of the same name. The original fort was used as a centre for fur trade commerce and early settlers in Winnipeg.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlyn Gowriluk has been writing for CBC Manitoba since 2019. Her work has also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, and in 2021 she was part of an award-winning team recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association for its breaking news coverage of COVID-19 vaccines. Get in touch with her at caitlyn.gowriluk@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada’s Thibault Jourdan and Gavin Boutroy

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