It was July 1, 1932. A snip of a pair of golden
scissors in the hands of Mayor Louis D. Taylor, ran a news
report, and Vancouver's $3 million Burrard Bridge was opened
to the public Friday afternoon, July 1 . . . Hardly was the ribbon
cut in front of the devouring eyes of movie cameras, than thousands
of pedestrians and hundreds of cars surged across the magnificent
white structure in a procession of triumph, celebrating another
step in Vancouver's progress. One headline called it: A Symphony
of Steel and Concrete.
The Kitsilano Boy's Band played; so did the Fireman's
Band. An RCAF seaplane zoomed under the bridge, to the great
amazement of the congregated thousands.
At a civic reception later, in the Hotel Vancouver, a replica of
the bridge was unveiled. It was made of sugar.
Work on the bridge had started December 8, 1930.
The architect (of the concrete version) was G.L. Thornton Sharp,
of Sharp and Thompson. It was Sharp who was responsible for the
most noticeable physical feature of the bridge, those tall galleries
in the middle. Both central piers, Sharp told a reporter,
were designed and connected with an overhead gallery across
the road. This helped to mask the network of steel in the truss
from the two approaches, and has been treated as an entrance gateway
to the city.
So if you've ever wondered what those two big concrete structures
were for, the answer is they're to hide all that messy steel. (The
story that people once lived in apartments inside one or both of
them is an urban myth.)
In the gallery centre, Sharp went on,
the arms of the City of Vancouver are carved, flanked by windows
which overlook the bridge deck. On the two piers which support the
gallery are molded the prows of boats with figureheads to represent
Captain George Vancouver and Captain Harry Burrard . . . both so
closely associated with the earliest history on Vancouver.
Not quite. Harry Burrard never came within 5,000 kilometres of
this area. He'd been an acting lieutenant with Vancouver on the
Europa in the West Indies; George was just honoring an old chum.
The busts of the two men were carved by local sculptor Charles
Marega. Hed done the coat of arms, too.
Tribute to Our Soldiers
|As a tribute to
Canadian World War I prisoners of war, who huddled around open
fires in their prison camps, John Grant had the idea to install
huge lamps at both ends of the span.
The two huge lamps at both ends of the spanbridge
engineer John Grants inspiration are a tribute to Canadian
WWI prisoners of war, who huddled around open fires in their prison
camps. The lamps are 1965 replacements of the originals, which had
to be taken down in 1963 because of corrosion.
Theres a sheaf of correspondence at the Vancouver City Archives
between Grant and an American consulting engineer (and friend) whom
Grant had commissioned to advise him during the building of the
bridge. It amounts to a continuing progress report on the work,
much of it technical, and contains some fascinating stuff about
a rival, a very well known Vancouver engineer, who tried to get
the work away from him. (Grant, by the way, was the engineer for
the present-day Granville Street Bridge, too.)
One small change that resulted from the construction of the Burrard
Bridge: Cedar Street disappeared. When the bridge went in, it connected
to Cedar Street south of the bridgethe name Burrard was simply
extended and Cedar disappeared. Shortly after the opening the city
got a letter from Sir Harry Paul Burrard, a justice of the peace
in Worthing, Sussex, thanking them for naming the bridge after his
Some years after the bridge opened, its designer
reacted to remarks by a local art teacher that the bridge was a
monstrosity. F.A. Ames of the Vancouver Art School had
told a Lions Club gathering that the bridge pillars were ashcans
with a gasoline station on top. Grant explained, said the
Sun, that the pillars were built as large as they are
on request from the harbormaster, who wanted them prominent to avoid
a navigation hazard at the False Creek entrance. He went on
to explain that the large base of the piers was required because
at the time the B.C. Electric Railway had planned running a railway
on a lower deck beneath the roadway. That railway will never
go in now, Grant said. The BCER is no longer interested.
He pooh-poohed Ames criticisms, said hed rather trust
the esthetic ideas of the engineer. Were with
A lot of people drive over Burrard Bridge: about 65,000 a day.
It was once the most crowded of all the city's bridges. Shortly
after the Burrard opened, in fact, traffic on the congested Granville
Street bridge (not the present span) was considerably eased.
There's a story behind that: in March of 1978 Aileen
Campbell of The Province interviewed real estate broker Percy
Burr, then 89, who took credit for speeding up the construction
of the bridge. I promoted the building of the Burrard Street
bridge, Burr told her. Real estate moves in cycles and
you have to spot the trends ahead of the next fellow. I knew Georgia
Street was going west and Burrard was going to have a bridge and
move south. We needed a bridge and I knew it would bring good prices
for properties along Burrard. Granville Street was getting jammed.
I jammed it up more, so when the vote came it was favorable.
Aileen wrote that Burr declined to go into details.
The first suicide off the bridge was Oct. 21, 1933.
There were many to follow. In fact, reading back
through the clippings, at times it almost seems there were line-ups
of people waiting their turns to leap off this bridge. A grimly
comic story from August, 1950, quotes at length from an Imperial
Oil gas barge attendant, who'd just helped pull yet another nearly-dead
jumper from the waters of False Creek. (The bridge isn't quite high
enough to guarantee a speedy end, you see. What often results is
mere injury, usually severe.) I shouted to Pete to take him
to the Georgia Towing wharf, this attendant said. That's
where we always take 'em . . . They generally come through all right.
I pulled out my first one 15 years ago. Since then I've chalked
up nine and only two of em died.
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