Discover the 7 Worst Bridge Collapses in Canada
Tragedies occur daily but are more horrific when they occur in great numbers. Seven of the worst bridge collapses in Canada happened in the last 200 years. The collapses resulted in over 200 deaths and many more injuries.
The worst bridge collapse in Canadian history happened to the Quebec Bridge in 1907. The meticulous reconstruction of the bridge began shortly after but still ended in several deaths.
Though less notable, five other terrible bridge collapses occurred over the years. Some of the collapses occurred during construction. Others were the result of poor construction and maintenance.
1. The Quebec Bridge (1907) — The Most Fatal Bridge Disaster in Canadian History
The building of the Quebec Bridge began in 1887 over the St. Lawrence River.
The river is known for its formidable, icy conditions. So, the engineers decided on a cantilever bridge.
These types of bridges are made from projecting beams called “cantilevers.” Each projecting beam is only supported from one end.
The St. Lawrence River was the primary means of trade for the area during the summer. The treacherous river conditions over winter made trade impossible, making a bridge necessary.
The bridge wasn’t even finished with its construction when it collapsed in 1907. The collapse killed 75 of the 86 workers, and some of the bodies were never recovered.
One of the primary problems was that the Chief engineer, Edward Hoare, hadn’t worked on a bridge longer than 300 feet. The St. Lawrence River was about 2 miles wide at its narrowest section at the time.
Theodore Cooper, a prominent and highly qualified engineer, was a consultant to help Edward Hoare. Still, it didn’t seem to be enough.
Workers repeatedly noticed “deflections” in some of the major chords. They reported these problems to Cooper and several other higher-ups, but most were not worried.
The workers decided to halt construction until the issue was resolved. They chose to continue with construction after much back and forth.
Ultimately, the bridge collapsed at 5:30 p.m. on August 29, 1907. The collapse occurred because an already-bent compression chord crumbled under the growing weight of the bridge. The entire bridge — save the piers — was destroyed.
2. The Quebec Bridge (1916)
The Quebec Bridge collapsed a second time during its reconstruction. The partial collapse destroyed the middle part of the bridge and killed 13 workers.
The bridge was finally finished in 1917.
After the first collapse, the Transcontinental Railway Commission formed an Engineering Committee to rebuild the bridge. After the immense tragedy in 1907, they wanted a complete bridge redesign.
Engineering News said, “This attention will be multiplied by the stimulus of the intense interest awakened by the collapse of the first bridge. There will be a more anxious, more rigid scrutinizing of the conclusions and the designs produced by the committee.”
Another tragedy occurred as they were finishing up the bridge on September 11, 1916.
Workers lifted the span of the bridge, but it slipped from its supports, falling into the river. There was no wind, and the weather was perfect. Everything was going well… until it wasn’t.
At 10:50 a.m., there was a loud sound as the span fell into the river, killing 13 men and injuring 14.
Many more men would have died if the span collapsed sooner. Many prominent United States and Canadian engineers stood on the span when they first began operating. Fortunately, many of those men left the span for the shoreline before suspension continued.
Engineering News said, “But experience teaches again that disaster may come, even to the most careful. In the light of what has happened at Quebec, engineers in every rank of the profession must realize anew that there is a lurking possibility of failure in every task that the engineer performs and that, when such failures come, those who suffer by it deserve the broad and generous sympathy of their brethren.”
3. The Heron Road Bridge Collapse (1966) — “A Thousand Tons of Terror”
The Heron Road Bridge was built to allow travelers to cross the Rideau River and Canal in Ottawa. The bridge was later renamed the Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge in 2016 to honor the men who lost their lives.
The project was actually made up of two bridges. One was for eastward and the other for westward traffic. Each bridge was nearly 1,000 feet long and three lanes wide.
183 men were working on the bridge at the time of the collapse on August 10, 1966. John Robillard, an assistant crane operator, was climbing a tall, wooden ladder near the end of his long summer shift. He heard cracking wood as he climbed but dismissed it as “normal” sounds of construction.
At 3:27 p.m., the Heron Road Bridge collapsed, killing nine men and injuring over 60. Surviving workers reported that the bridge shook violently, and the sound was like a bomb exploding.
It was later found that the bridge did not receive the proper support it needed for construction. The workers were laying concrete that day, which was too heavy for the bridge.
Many of the men who died fell 65 feet to their deaths. Some were impaled with steel reinforcement rods. Others were buried in a combination of lumber, steel, and wet cement.
The Ottawa Journal reported on the tragedy with a headline titled “A Thousand Tons of Terror.”
4. The Point Ellice Bridge (1896)
Part of the Victoria’s Point Ellice Bridge collapsed on May 26, 1896.
A streetcar was crossing the bridge, carrying passengers ready to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. The streetcar held 143 passengers, 55 of whom died during the collapse.
This four-span bridge was made of wood and metal in 1885. The tramlines on the bridge came after its construction and were too heavy for the bridge to support. Besides that, the bridge was poorly maintained.
5. The Desjardins Canal Bridge (1857)
The collapse of the Desjardins Canal Bridge was not the fault of its own, but of a steam locomotive. The locomotive was from the Great Western Railway and had a broken axle. The broken axle caused the locomotive to crash through the bridge’s deck.
The water in the canal below was freezing and deadly. There were about 100 passengers on the locomotive. 59 passengers plunged to their deaths, and 18 experienced injuries.
6. The Second Narrows Bridge (1958)
The Second Narrows Bridge connected Vancouver and North Vancouver. During its construction, part of the bridge collapsed on June 17, 1958. A temporary arm supporting the bridge could not handle the weight.
It was later noted that the bridge’s engineers had made design errors that led to the collapse.
18 people died in the collapse, crushed under 8,000 tons of steel. The colossal steel beams twisted like yarn as they fell. One of the divers trying to retrieve the dead also died.
Nearby welders spent two hours cutting up the beams to save the people beneath. Many were able to be saved, although 79 were injured.
The collapse of the bridge did not stop its construction. It was renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing” to honor the men who died during the collapse.
7. The De la Concorde Overpass (2006)
The De la Concorde Overpass collapsed on September 30, 2006.
The overpass resides in Laval, Quebec, where it sits atop a highway. Unfortunately, the overpass was designed, constructed, and maintained poorly, leading to its collapse.
A 65-foot section of the overpass collapsed around noon, killing five and injuring six.
Summary of the 7 Worst Bridge Collapses in Canada
|Year it Collapsed||# of Deaths|
|The Quebec Bridge||1907||75|
|The Quebec Bridge||1916||13|
|The Heron Road Bridge Collapse||1966||9|
|The Point Ellice Bridge||1896||55|
|The Desjardins Canal Bridge||1857||59|
|The Second Narrows Bridge||1958||19|
|The De la Concorde Overpass||2006||5|
Did you find this article interesting? Read about the five worst bridge collapses in history.