Tawatinâ Bridge: Connecting people to downtown

Edmonton’s newest bridge is helping people make connections. 

The Tawatinâ Bridge, (pronounced də-WAH-tin-now), crosses the North Saskatchewan River just east of the Edmonton Convention Centre. The main deck will carry the LRT, while the lower deck is now open to people walking, biking, rolling and enjoying art—the ceiling features artwork by Indigenous artist David Garneau. 

Gino Akbari and his family live in the nearby neighbourhood of Riverdale. He’s also the president of the Riverdale Community League. 

“With the new bridge, we have a unique opportunity to connect with communities across the river, enjoy the amazing artwork housed on it, and honour Indigenous cultures via the naming of the bridge,” he says. “What better way is there to connect us with each other physically and psychologically than by ‘bridging’ us together?”

Cyclists and strollers enjoy Tawatinâ Bridge. Photo courtesy Laura Henderson.

Destination downtown 

The Tawatinâ Bridge will also connect people to downtown Edmonton through the city’s river valley. (Tawatinâ means ‘Valley’ in Cree.) 

The 13-kilometre Valley Line Southeast LRT, expected to open this summer, features 11 stops—from Mill Woods to the Churchill Connector interchange point in downtown Edmonton. Commuters can then transfer onto Capital or Metro lines. (Future stages will extend the Valley Line west to Lewis Farms.) 

Some commuters, like Gibby Davis, are now riding their bikes across the bridge to get to work or visit some of their favourite places downtown. He says it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to cycle from his home in Terrace Heights to his job as Senior Planner with the City of Edmonton. 

“I usually bike or run to work, so I was very eager to get on to that bridge,” says Davis. “The first day it was open, I was going across. 

“Not long after, I was taking my kids across. We went for a family bike ride and they loved it. It became their new favourite bridge. It’s great for me, too—it’s saving me time on my commute. It’s a little bit shorter to get to work having that bridge there compared to the other options.”

Sustainable connections 

The Tawatinâ Bridge will also connect to Edmonton’s Downtown Bike Network, which offers more than eight kilometres of protected bike lanes, shared roadways and paths to get around downtown. 

“The Downtown Bike Network is just a part of how we as a community are shifting towards more active, more mindful, and more social ways to travel and get to where we need to go,” said Anna Lafreniere, a Communications Coordinator with the City of Edmonton.

“I’m excited that I get to live in an area where I can take advantage of projects like this that build community connections with sustainability in mind.”

The Downtown Bike Network is a safe and user-friendly way to roll around Downtown.

Indigenous art 

David Garneau, born and raised in Edmonton, created the 500 panels with the help of a team of assistants. 

The art is an homage to the history, nature, and First Nations and Métis presence in the region. The art is there to tell a story, and to be enjoyed by everyone who takes the time to look up. 

“Many of the paintings are easy to read,” says Garneau. “There are familiar animals, plants, historical photographs, objects from the Royal Alberta Museum. But there are also maps, pairings of images, mysterious pictures, even secret codes that require First Nations and Métis storytellers and knowledge keepers and local historians to bring them to life. I hope the paintings keep people engaged for generations.”

Some of the panels on the Tawatinâ Bridge. Photo courtesy AJ Dimas-Lehndorf.
Fireflies and birds mingle on the bridge. Photo courtesy AJ Dimas-Lehndorf.

There’s more! One of the panels along the bridge contains a QR code linking to the artist’s website. Can you find it when you next visit?

“What a spectacular bridge!”

More and more people are getting a chance to enjoy the bridge and share their love for it. River Valley Adventure Co. offers Segway tours of the river valley and usually go over the Tawatinâ Bridge. “I think the artwork on it is beautiful,” says Tyra LaCoste, manager of River Valley Adventure Co. Bill Godfrey wrote about the bridge in a recent letter to The Edmonton Journal: “Wow. What a spectacular bridge! It welcomes you and makes you want to linger—to admire the artwork and our amazing city. Good work Edmonton; you’ve learned a lot in 30 years.”

Ryan McMillen, left, and AJ Dimas-Lehndorf enjoying the sweeping views and artwork on the bridge. Photo courtesy AJ Dimas-Lehndorf.

For AJ Dimas-Lehndorf, it goes even further. He doesn’t live anywhere near the bridge, but he jumps at the chance to take out-of-town friends and family members to it. 

”Being a river city also makes Edmonton a city of bridges. Each one has its own place in history and in our communities. This one is my favourite because it is the most ‘Edmonton’ of them all, with the public art reflecting land and the ways we move pointing to the future.”

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post is of the Tawatinâ Bridge across the North Saskatchewan River on May 14, 2022. The Chinese Garden in Louise McKinney Park is on the north side of the river, the Muttart Conservatory is on the south.