August 17 2012
When it was decided in 1850 to build a railway bridge linking the Island of Montreal with the south shore, many people said it was impossible to build such a large structure. Despite the skeptics, the Grand Trunk Railway launched a gigantic construction project, and the celebrated engineer Robert Stephenson (son of George Stephenson ‘The father of railways’) drew up the plans for a tubular structure made of riveted iron plates that would form the 3km covered railway bridge.
At the time it was built, the Victoria Bridge ranked as one of the most daring structures of its day. Erected between 1854 and 1859, Victoria Bridge was officially inaugurated by Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales on August 25, 1860. At the time of its completion it was the longest bridge in the world.
Before the bridge was built, travelling to the South Shore from Montreal was done by boat in the summer and sleds in the winter, but only when the ice froze solid. The Victoria Bridge assured year-round transportation and access to seaports in the Maritimes, Toronto and Chicago.
The bridge spawned ingenious innovations in construction techniques:
- The stone piers were angled at 45 degrees into the current to act as a long line of icebreakers.
- The builders also devised the first derricks to lift up the rocks brought in by barge and the first steam-driven cranes.
- There was even a just-in-time delivery system for the prefabricated parts shipped from Liverpool, England, that used a fleet of steamboats.
Since steel hadn’t yet been invented and cast iron was proving problematic, the bridge was constructed using wrought iron. While the 28 piers are pretty much those that were constructed in 1860 the initial tubular iron sections were replaced in 1897/8 with standard metal trusses.
Today the bridge has a rail line running in the center section with single roadway on either side. In morning rush hour both lanes carry traffic to Montreal and in the evening rush hour the lanes carry traffic to the south shore. At all other times, there is one lane available in each direction. Due to weight restrictions and low clearance, heavy Goods Vehicles are prohibited from using the Victoria Bridge.
Having walked all the way to the bridge, and not being the easiest place to get to, I forgot completely about looking for the Irish Commemorative Stone (known as The Black Rock) that was laid by the workers on the bridge who discovered human remains during construction. The remains were of Irish immigrants to Canada, who had fled the famine in Ireland, only to die during the typhus epidemic of 1847 in fever sheds at nearby Windmill Point (site of the grain Silo 5). I plan to return again to shoot the bridge in winter so hope to find Black Rock then.
It’s a bit sad having viewed a structure that is over 150 years old and still in good working order to then have to walk under the elevated Bonaventure Expressway that was built in 1967 and is due to be demolished over the next few years. Not to mention the Turcot Interchange (built in 1967 and to be demolished in next few years) , Champlain Bridge (built in 1962 to be demolished and replaced in next 10 years) and the Mercier Bridge (built in 1934 requiring ongoing major repairs). I plan to cover these structures in future posts, but feel I need to go buy a hard hat first
I didn’t want to end the week with some ugly shots, so here are some nice views of modern Montreal…Have a great weekend everyone !!!
To view images in gallery format, simply click on one of the images below.
Thanks for stopping by. Until next time.