The Canada Bridge is located in one of the most enchanting cities in Europe, Bruges. The Belgium city, a UNSECO World Heritage Site, was liberated from the Nazis on Sept. 12, 1944 by the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, a reconnaissance regiment in the 4th Canadian Armoured Division.
The community rebuilt a partially destroyed bridge and named it in honour of their liberators. The bridge, also known as the Manitoba Bridge, is flanked by two bison statues, which represent both the Province of Manitoba and the Dragoons.
Bruges (Brugge in Flemish/Dutch) is the capital of West Flanders and is close to the major First World War battlefields of Passchendaele and Ypres. Located about 15 minutes from the major shipping habour of Zeebrugge, Bruges was occupied by the Germans during both wars. It is a minor miracle that so much of the city’s magical medieval charm remains untouched by time.
A major textile centre in the Middle Ages, Bruges went into decline in the 15th century after silt blocked its water access to the North Sea. Much of the city was abandoned. Its “gingerbread” brick Gothic architecture and Flemish charms were rediscovered in the 1800s by British and French tourists travelling to visit the historic Waterloo battlefield, which is located about an hour away.
In 1907 a canal linking Bruges to the new port of Zeebrugge was constructed and improved the city’s prospects for the future as well as giving it an unfortunate strategic position during the war years.
On my too-brief visit to Bruges, I was gobsmacked by its beauty and wanted to drink in as much as I could.
Today, Bruges is a major tourist attraction where visitors can enjoy beer, waffles and chocolate as well as Belgium soul food: french (or Flemish) fries. The locals like to dip them in mayonnaise.
Tourists can enjoy a walking tour of the cobblestone streets, a canal cruise or a visit to one of the city’s 30 museums. After a tour of the Beer Museum, one can taste several of 16 draught beers on offer while enjoying a view of the historic market square.
Bruges was once famous for its lace and today tourists can visit the lace museum (Kantcentrum). Shops sell lace although much is made by machines or imported from China. Belgian handmade contemporary and antique lace is available but it can be expensive.
People who follow Dan Brown’s tales of religious relics and symbols as well as the religious will want to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood. This Romanesque and Gothic church houses a vial of what is believed to be Christ’s blood brought to Bruges in the 12th century by Crusaders.
Another famous religious icon is the Madonna of Bruges in the Church of Our Lady. This marble sculpture reminiscent of the Pietà, was purchased by a wealthy textile merchant and is the only sculpture by Michelangelo to have left Italy during his lifetime.
The Madonna was stolen by the Germans during the Second World War and later found in an Altaussee salt mine. If this sounds familiar, it is because it was one of the works recovered in the movie The Monuments Men (2014).
For whatever reason, the scene where the George Clooney character visits the Madonna 20 years later was not shot in Bruges. However, The Nun’s Story (1959) with Audrey Hepburn was partially shot in this Belgium city. More recently, the dark comedy In Bruges (2008) with Colin Farrell features the beauty of this city.
It’s less than a four-hour trip on the Eurostar high-speed train from London to Bruges via the Channel Tunnel. Bruges is 107 kilometres (67 miles) from the Brussels airport. Many packaged tours, especially those highlighting war cemeteries, include stays in Bruges. Cruise ships visiting Bruges dock at Zeebrugge.