Expressions of Regret

The Quebec Bridge collapsed on 11 September 19...
The Quebec Bridge collapsed on 11 September 1916 a second time due to poor design work and materials. The bridge, which was conceived to be one of the most advanced in the world, had already collapsed under similar circumstances in 1907. Eighty-five workers perished in that tragedy prompting a Dominion Royal Commission to investigate the catastrophic failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People sailing to Canada for the first time are always thrilled to pass under the Quebec Bridge.  When completed in September 1917, it was the biggest bridge in the world, although it no longer holds that distinction.  The plan to build a bridge across the St. Lawrence, eight miles above Quebec, was first proposed in 1853.  Before it was completed in 1917, the Quebec Bridge had fallen down twice, with the loss of seventy-three lives.

The original plan would have cost $3 million, but no engineer would undertake its construction.  In 1882, the idea was revised when the famous Firth of Fourth bridge was built in Scotland.  Sir James Brunless, who built the Firth bridge, was brought over to Canada as a consultant, but work progressed slowly.  Finally the job was entrusted to a New York firm.

On completion day, August 29, 1907, with thousands watching, the southern cantilever suddenly collapsed.  The crash killed sixty workmen and injured eleven others, as tons of twisted steel sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence.  There was a dramatic sight as a priest administered the last rites to a man caught inside a girder.  There were no devices capable of cutting metal quickly enough in those days, and he drowned as the water rose inside the girder.

The Laurier government then stepped in and put the Department of Railways in charge.  The contract was awarded to the St. Lawrence Bridge Company with two Canadian steel companies supplying the materials.  On September 11, 1916, another large crowd assembled to see the centre span raised into place.  It was floated down the St. Lawrence on six steel barges.  Thousands watched from the shores or from small boats in the river.  There was great cheering and waving of handkerchiefs as the giant cranes began to lift the span from the barges.  As it rose to about 4.5 meters (15 feet) above the water, there was a crack like a rifle-shot and the span plunged into the river.  Thirteen men were killed.

The Quebec Bridge by night, crossing the Saint...
The Quebec Bridge by night, crossing the Saint Lawrence River, in Quebec City, Canada. Since its opening in 1919, it is the longest cantilever bridge span in the world, at 549 m. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another centre span was built and floated down the river.  The huge cranes began lifting it on September 15, 1917 and it was in its place by September 20.  The Quebec Bridge had finally been completed.

I really only have one site to suggest about the Quebec Bridge disasters. The Engineers Aspect blog. Great article there!

10 comments

  1. Have oft admired the bridge but did not know the history. Bridge construction is really amazing. This book, “The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge”, is fascinating!

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    • With today’s technology, I hope that such a project would not result in even one death … But I’m not knowledgable enough to know. Sad, though, the making of this bridge.

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  2. An amazing story–I had no idea of this. Today, with unions under such stress and organized insistence that they are no longer needed a sobering story of loss like this is a valid reminder of how far we have come, thanks to the solidarity of workers everywhere.

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    • I personally have a phobia of bridges – like it would collapse just as I’m crossing it. That’s in a car. I am near panic if someone suggest crossing it on foot! For some reason, it has gotten worse each year … Phobias are not logical! 🙂

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