We take bridges for granted, yet they are vital works of
construction that connect places and people separated by waterways.
In fact, bridges are some of Canada's iconic structures, and
they have been designed by innovative engineers who have tried to
overcome the difficulties of climate and terrain. Therefore, you
will find a variety of bridge designs, the most common being
suspension, truss, or arched. Here, then, is an exploration of some
of the more interesting historic bridges in Canada.
Next time you
are in Calgary, perhaps you might want to pause to look more
closely at Centre Street
Bridge, which spans over the Bow River. Completed in
1916, it connects downtown Calgary with the Crescent Heights
neighbourhood. The bridge has four arched spans, has a high degree
of ornamentation, and has upper and lower traffic desks that could
accommodate cars, pedestrians, and at one time two streetcar lines.
The bridge was designed by bridge expert J.F. Greene - also the
engineer for many pioneering bridges in the United States - and he
is considered to be one of the main contributors to the City
Beautiful planning movement in Calgary. Adding to the overall
aesthetic look was Calgary artist James L. Thompson, who had
massive sculptures of lions mounted on top of two pairs of kiosks
at either side of the bridge. While the lions are supposed to
symbolize the British Empire, Thompson's other sculptures show his
interest in the cultural connections of his age: so there are
buffalo heads, which represent Western Canada; maple leaves,
symbolizing Canada, roses, for England; shamrocks, for Ireland; and
thistles, for Scotland. Notice how the bridge adds to the natural
landscape of the Bow River valley.
The Hagwilget Bridge in British
Columbia is another awe-inspiring engineering marvel. Built in
1932, this single-lane steel suspension bridge makes use of a
trussed steel deck, has one tower at each end for support, and
spans the rugged Bulkley River canyon. By linking the
Kitimat-Stikine region, it connects inland First Nations
communities with those on the coast, thus maintaining valuable
trade networks that have been well-established since the
19th century. When the first bridge was built in the
19th century, it was a cantilever construction with a
central span built first with wood and rope, and later with
telegraph wire. A second bridge was constructed in the same spot in
1912, and was made of wood and wrought iron. The third - and
last - bridge has been a vital highway link between northern
coastal British Columbia and the Yukon for almost 80 years.
Of the many historic landmarks in Quebec City, there is one that
is perhaps an overlooked, but is a work of engineering genius. The
Bridge National Historic Site - which spans the St.
Lawrence River and connects Québec with Lévis - was considered one
of the greatest engineering feats in the world when it was built in
1917. It is the longest clear span truss bridge in the world, and
head engineer H. E. Vautelet decided to use nickel steel rather
than cheaper (and more popular) carbon steel, and used a "K Truss"
design that allowed for a 500 metre free span section. A "K
Truss" refers to two diagonal beams supporting one main beam, thus creating a "K" shape.
During construction, the bridge's free span section was floated
along the river to the cantilever arms, then raised, and riveted in
place. It is worth noting that the cantilevered arms are supported
by two massive masonry pillars which were sunk into the river bed.
The length of the bridge is 987 metres and the height is 95 metres.
Designated as a monument to civil engineering, it is still one of
the most important bridges built in Canada, and provides fantastic
views of the river, of the steep river banks, and of the two cities
On a smaller scale, it is worth mentioning the West Montrose Covered
Bridge, Ontario's last remaining covered bridge which crosses
the Grand River near Woolwich in the Region of Waterloo. Built in
1881, it was originally constructed solely of wood, is 208 feet
long, and is painted a distinctive red colour. Affectionately
nicknamed the "Kissing Bridge", it has window openings that allow
for views of the nearby wooded landscape, and is itself an iconic
feature of the landscape. Another such bridge can be found in New
Brunswick, but this one - known as Hartland Covered Bridge - is
the longest of its kind in the world. It crosses the St. John River
near Hartland, New Brunswick, and its construction in 1921 helped
local travellers by replacing lengthy detours. Built using "Howe"
trusses (beams which slope towards a central beam), it has concrete
piers supporting the trusses with their tapered shape to break the
ice flows on the river, as well as interior electric lighting.
Finally, if you are visiting Vancouver, a bridge that is not to
be missed is the Lions
Gate Bridge National Historic Site, which by its very
design and location adds to Vancouver's iconic image.
Designed by Victoria-born engineer Alfred J. Taylor and completed
in 1938, it is the longest suspension bridge in Western Canada,
spanning Burrard Inlet and linking the peninsula of downtown
Vancouver with North Vancouver. This bridge is another
engineering marvel, using innovative techniques such as a think
deck, open steelwork in the twin towers, and suspension cables to
create a light and soaring look. Adding to the overall design
are two Art Deco lion sculptures at the south entrance.
Well-used by commuters, it is also a primary tourist
Canada, then, is filled with many historic bridges that are
engineering triumphs and aesthetically beautiful pieces of
construction. Many of us think nothing of them as we commute
across them daily, but not only are they key transportation links,
bridges are also important visual landmarks. Next time you
visit an historic bridge, take a moment to celebrate its role in
helping to stitch together our country.