Friday, March 21, 2014

The Bridge that Tumbled Down

Leonard Frank took this photo of the first Second Narrows Bridge with the span open.

The same photographer took this photo in 1925 of the bridge's opening ceremony.
1923 photo taken by Frank of the construction of the first Second Narrows Bridge.

August 7, 1925, was when Leonard Frank took this photo of the bridge being built.

In the 1950s, Vancouver was booming and we needed a better transportation system. The old Second Narrows Bridge was just not adequate any longer. It was two lanes with a railway track running down centre. (There's a picture of the old and new bridge on this website

The bridge, which was constructed in 1925, could be lifted to allow boats to pass. This was inconvenient for travellers across the bridge. This structure was nicknamed the 'Bridge of Sighs' due to the frequency of marine accidents. An example is in 1930, when the Losmar of the Calmar Line hit the bridge and did enough damage that the structure was closed for months for repairs.

But what were we to do? There was the Lions Gate Bridge and a car ferry service but a new bridge would be so much better. So the first Second Narrows Bridge transferred to the CNR (Canadian National Railway) and was called the Second Narrows CN Rail Bridge - it is no longer available for public use.

Leonard Frank took this photo on May 3, 1930 after Losmar collided with the bridge.
Dominion Photo Co. took this photo in May 1930 of the same incident.
Dominion Photo Co. took these two photos on November 7, 1925 at the opening of the first bridge.

The Swan Wooster Engineering Co Ltd was hired to create the design for a new bridge. The location of second narrows was chosen due to time allowances, cost and the wish not to increase traffic in downtown Vancouver. The new bridge is 130m east of the original.

The bridge spans 1292m with a centre span length of 332m. The project cost approximately 15 million dollars.

June 17, 1958 was a hot, sunny day and work continued on the new bridge. Suddenly, a section of the unfinished structure collapsed into the inlet, killing 18 workers immediately. 79 workers fell the 53m to the water and of those, 20 were hospitalized. Divers went into the water to retrieve bodies and one was killed while doing so.

The accident was due to stress from a loaded crane on the northern span of the unfinished bridge. Although the Royal Commission of Enquiry concluded the accident was caused by a design error, some people didn't accept that explanation. They questioned the quality of materials used and the cutbacks made during the construction. In total, 25 lives were lost over four incidents while building that bridge.

The Province newspaper originally printed this 1958 photo of the bridge under construction.
The Province also first showed this photo of the collapse.

Province again, collapse again. You can see people in rowboats near the bottom.
Same as before.

In 1994, the Second Narrows Bridge was renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge. If you walk the pedestrian footpaths of the bridge, you will see plaques honouring those who died during its construction. However, the bridge honours all steel workers, not just those who died during the construction.

The late Stompin' Tom Connors recorded the song The Bridge Came Tumbling Down in 1972 and Jimmy Dean played tribute with his song Steel Men in 1962. I was reading an article where it pointed out that both songs talk about a wind knocking the bridge down but there wasn't any wind that day. 

In June of 2008, Work Safe BC organized an anniversary event of the tragedy. An injured worker, John Higgins, performed Connors' song and Gary Geddes, the author of Falsework, read two poems.

Another photo from the Province on that sad day.

Back to 1926, Leonard Frank took this photo on June 3 of the first train to pass over the first Second Narrows Bridge.
1924, Leonard Frank takes this photo of the Second Narrows Bridge under construction.

1925, same information as above.

I would like to thank Vancouver Traces website for the above information and the Vancouver Public Library for the photos.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Leonard Frank took this photo in the 1920s of the Second Narrows Bridge under construction.

Same as above.
The Province showed this photo in 1956 of repairs to the bridge.

T.N. Larsen took this photo of the Sapperton Park ship passing below the Second Narrows Bridge on April 30, 1946.


  1. Last photo is the Lions Gate Bridge, not the Second Narrows Bridge.

    1. Looks that way, doesn't it? I guess the Vancouver Public Library recorded it wrong.