Wood, steel and concrete: a concise history of Vancouver’s Cambie Street crossings

Connaught Bridge, 1913 (City of Vancouver Archives)

In November 1984, the month Vancouver’s old Cambie Street Bridge closed, my friend and fellow photographer Brian Hay scaled the span before sunrise. We set up our Mamiyaflex cameras on the swing span tower to catch first light on a landscape in transition from industrial hub to condo city.

Crossing by Bike

The “Connaught Bridge,” a name that never stuck, was the second crossing over False Creek — the first being a simple timber trestle, built in 1891 at a cost of $12,000.

The steel bridge, built at a cost of $740,000, opened to traffic on May 24, 1911. it also carried streetcars between southern neighbourhoods and the downtown core.

Just 4-years-later, a fire on the creosoted wood deck sent a 24.4-metre (80 ft) steel side span tumbling into False Creek. By the time I used the wooden sidewalk, seen in the historic photo above, 70-years of footfall and weather had worn its surface into washboard. Crossings by bicycle were enough to loosen fillings … or lens caps.

The present $52.7 million concrete bridge, was built to a tight schedule, between 1983–85, in order to coincide with the May debut of transportation and communication themed Expo 86. The 1,100 metres (3,600 ft), 6-lane span opened on December 8, 1985.

Photographs from my Eighties Vancouver series document various stages of its construction. I recall many days peering over the old bridge onto the hardhats below, and meandering along the nearby shores of False Creek as the concrete structure, monolithic compared to the Conaught’s airy girders, advanced across the inlet.

It’s hard to believe that the “new” Cambie Bridge is now over thirty-years-old.

New Cambie Bridge

Construction, Cambie Street Bridge, 1985

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