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'Lasting legacy': Tawatinâ footbridge officially opens, features Indigenous artwork

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EDMONTON -

Edmontonians celebrated the reconnection of two central neighbourhoods by a footbridge spanning the North Saskatchewan River.

After numerous delays, the Tawatinâ pedestrian bridge officially opened on Sunday. The 260-metre bridge connecting the Cloverdale and Riverdale communities features two LRT tracks and a shared-use pathway below for pedestrians and cyclists that leads to river valley trails.

Tawatinâ means "valley" in Cree.

The shared-use pathway features hundreds of art panels designed by artist David Garneau, whose Métis family first settled in the area in 1874.

The Edmonton Arts Council awarded him the commission in 2016 to create an installation on the bridge celebrating the region's history.

"Originally, I thought a 100 paintings would do and then it sort of crept up to 300 or 400," Garneau said. "Now I've been trying to count them, I think there's 550, but some of them are very small."

The artist explained how he worked with Indigenous elders to channel what images should be depicted in the collage installation on the bridge.

"It's really bridging two sides, two cultures," Garneau added. "It's also a space in-between. There's a lot of nature, a lot of First Nations and Métis history, but it's all in fragments. To me, there are pictures, and storytellers have to come and knit them together to explain what the meanings are."

In 2016, the old Cloverdale Footbridge was dismantled to make way for the new river crossing. Garneau said before that bridge was demolished, he took photos of some of the carvings people made to incorporate within some of his pieces.

"I loved that bridge. I grew up here. I remember the footbridge," he said.

"I couldn't reproduce them all, but I think there's about 20 or 40, I can't remember, of all the wonderful histories that were embedded there. So, I wanted some trace of that."

A smudging ceremony was hosted to cleanse the space and highlight the importance of the river valley as a meeting and connecting place.

As of spring, the bridge deck and cable stays were fully built, as well as the installation of the overhead catenary system.

TransEd, the city's Valley Line LRT public-private partner, began train testing across the bridge in October.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Alex Antoneshyn, Sean Amato, and Jeremy Thompson

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