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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pacheco

The Story of the Miracle Bridge

Here is the testimony of Father Duguay, the curate and assistant of Father Desilets:

“On March 14, a high wind broke up the ice blocking the mouth of the St. Maurice River and fringing the northern shore of the St. Lawrence. The broken ice drifted downstream into the bay of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, covering the river to a distance of several hundred feet below the church. During Mass, I announced, on the parish priest’s behalf, that there would be a High Mass on the 19th to petition St. Joseph for a bridge of ice. I added that, after vespers, I would accompany those who wished to prospect a passage to the far shore of the St. Lawrence River.

“When we reached the area where the river was covered, we saw that the drifting ice was scattered thinly amongst floating snow… We advanced onto the river, choosing places where the fragments of old ice seemed to be closer together. The distance between the broken-up floes varied considerably. On and on we went. Firmin Cadotte led the way, axe in hand, a rope around his waist, held by Flavien Bourassa… just in case!

“From stopping place to stopping place, we made our way to the final floe of old ice. It must have been about 1,000 feet from the inshore ice along the southern shore… When I looked up, I saw that my two guides had moved on about 200 feet: they had realized that if they went upriver, diagonally, they might be able to reach the inshore ice which stretched out from the St. Angèle strand. Still moving forward, Firmin Cadotte struck through the thin ice with the head of his axe. The other men watched us go on, but did not dare follow, so that, in the end, my two guides and myself were the only ones to reach the south shore…

“Firmin Cadotte was crawling forward, feeling with his hand for a small strip or patch of ice which would take the weight of his knee… Thirty men worked along this 1,600-foot stretch until 11 o’clock that night, with only three lanterns to give light in their task, which was to prepare a track wide enough for two carts to pass each other. We came back at 11 p.m. Stopping next to the old sacristy I asked the men: ‘Well, what’s the next step?’ Firmin Cadotte answered: ‘We have to pour water over the bridge in order to make it thicker.’ At 3 a.m. the same night, we were back at work on the ice. The night was crisp, considering it was the end of March, and the bridge was already solid enough to walk on.

“On March 18, at 4 a.m., the north wind had blown up and driven the clouds away. We sent off for some men to pour more water over our bridge and to saturate the snow which had fallen during the night. We were beginning to be proud of our bridge. When we tested it with a blow from an axe, we found that it was already six inches thick. This raised everyone’s hopes of success. We had instructed Joe Bellefeuille and his son to prepare six-foot blocks of stone. While we were deciding where to open up the track (there had been a great deal of snow overnight), we saw the first sleigh coming over our bridge. It was driven by Joe Longval who had been eager to bring over the first load of stones.

“The working party, which had begun on Wednesday the 19th, lasted until the following Wednesday evening… By Sunday, 175 sleighs had crossed the river… We had transported about a thousand feet of dressed stone, plus stone for the foundations. I ordered a stop to the work, and no one undertook to make another voyage. It was quite extraordinary, a true miracle. It defied common sense. We immediately named it the Rosary Bridge.” (By the way, 2004 marks the 125th  Anniversary of this “Rosary Bridge”.) [Source]

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