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‘There’s always a bridge’: Winnipeg songwriter’s ode to Arlington Street gains poignance with closure

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg’s Arlington Bridge more than just infrastructure'
Winnipeg’s Arlington Bridge more than just infrastructure
Singer-songwriter Scott Nolan reflected on the symbolic value of Winnipeg's oldest bridge and its mark on the city's collective imagination – Nov 28, 2023

Questions remain over the permanent fate of Winnipeg’s Arlington Bridge after the after the 111-year-old span was indefinitely closed last week.

For many Winnipeggers, the iconic bridge was a regular part of the daily commute, but for local singer-songwriter Scott Nolan, it served as an inspiration.

Nolan sings about watching trains from the bridge on the song Arlington Street, part of his 2022 collaborative LP with composer Glenn Buhr, and said the project turned a simple folk song into something far more emotional.

“I’ve talked a lot about my cousin who was a mentor to me in my younger years, largely while doing a life sentence in prison. (Arlington Bridge) was one of the last places I remember hanging around as a kid with him. We’d rummage around that yard and watch the trains. It was noisy and dangerous,” he said.

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“(Arlington Street), to me, was one of the best examples where Glenn took my piece and expanded it into an unimaginable place.

“My version of it on my own is just smaller, it’s shorter … it’s essentially the same song, but what Glenn’s done is really gone mining for the emotion of it and stretched it to where the musical sentiment matches the lyrical one. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to a Sinatra-like thing.”

Click to play video: 'No band-aid solutions: Questions remain over permanent fate of Arlington Bridge'
No band-aid solutions: Questions remain over permanent fate of Arlington Bridge

No stranger to writing about Winnipeg, Nolan and Buhr’s album The Suburb Beautiful is a lushly orchestrated paean to the city, and the songwriter said he’d like to see the record — and Arlington Street, specifically — become an unofficial soundtrack to the bridge’s eventual fate, whatever that might be.

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Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham and other municipal officials have said any decisions on the bridge are pending the results of a study that is still months away.

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Ideally, Nolan would like to see the song as part of a project documenting the removal — assuming that’s the end result — and history of the bridge.

“I don’t know that I’ll give up that dream…. I’m on the look. I’m looking for the right filmmaker that wants to share history together, because I really actually feel like that song — that whole record I made with Glenn — it got some critical reviews, but it also got kind of brushed aside away. I don’t think it really got out in the world. I know there was a part of me that naively felt that it would be significant in Manitoba somehow, and maybe it will still be.

“That’s one of those things about music and art, really. You go with the circumstances, but I was always kind of hopeful that it could eke its way into somewhere, you know?”

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Click to play video: 'Is it time to relocate rail lines in Winnipeg’s Arlington Yard?'
Is it time to relocate rail lines in Winnipeg’s Arlington Yard?

For now, though, he’ll continue performing Arlington Street live, as the song has an evergreen quality regardless of the bridge’s status.

“As a songwriter, I’m very economical that way. I think those things through. I called it Arlington Street — I referenced the bridge, but I named it after the street.

“I do actually give thought, especially when I’m writing about places and people and things … to how that idea might age. I think the song will be fine whether the bridge is there or not.”

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