VICTORIA, BC (CANADA)-
Yesterday marked an anniversary of a tragedy in the history of bridge building and maintenance. 125 years ago on May 26, 1896, a street car tried to cross the Point Ellice Bridge, which spans the Upper Harbor on present-day Bay Street, connecting Victoria and Victoria West, let alone the island with the mainland. Thousands gathered to celebrate the 76th birthday of Queen Victoria and watch the reenactment of a naval battle at Esquimalt. Unfortunately on this tragic day, one of two spans of the pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge collapsed under the weight of the street car and the people who were traveling on it. An analysis of the disaster and reactions to the tragedy can be found in the video below:
The disaster was considered the worst in Canadian history at that time, still it is being talked about in class today, but on a regonal level. The bridge collapse signaled the beginning of the movement for truss bridges that were to be built to withstand increasing loads of traffic. This included the introduction of standardization of truss designs to be used for bridge construction. This was introduced beginning in 1910 in the United States. Steel was already replacing wood and iron because of their lack of quality- iron was too inflexible and brittle, while wood had a potential to rot due to weather and worms eating away at the material. The latter can be found in the example of the first crossing in Bisbrane, in Australia. And bit by bit, the introduction of a Good Roads Movement was presented, where roads and bridges were to be built using higher quality materials, yet at the same time, they were to be maintained. Even a simple paint job on a truss bridge span could prolong the span’s functional life.
Each bridge disaster presented challenges and ushered in changes to bridge building and maintenance. The Point Ellice Bridge collapse of 1896 is still being talked about to this day because it ushered in the necessary changes needed to improve the infrastructure not only in Canada, but in neighboring USA and even beyond…..
The Point Ellice House and Bridge were built at the same time, honoring Edward Ellice, who left a mark in Canadian history and later in Great Britain. The House has been preserved and designated a historic site. It still hosts events that talk about this tragic event. At the same time, the bridge was rebuilt after the disaster, yet the present-day structure, a concrete cantilever span, was built in 1958 and still serves traffic today. It was renovated last time in 2019.