60 years after tragedy, Vancouver remembers deadly Second Narrows bridge collapse
Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge collapse, one of the worst industrial accidents in B.C.’s history.
The span that connects East Vancouver and the North Shore collapsed while under construction at 3:40 p.m. on June 17, 1958.
“This was the last link in the Trans-Canada Highway that linked the whole country together after the Second [World] War. A six-lane bridge,” George Orr, who has produced a new documentary about the tragedy, told Global News.
“It was an enormous undertaking, the steel was brought from England, there were hundreds and hundreds of men working on it, and it was going to be a crown in [Premier] W.A.C Bennett’s infrastructure building in British Columbia. Then it went down.”
Seventy-nine workers fell more than 30 metres into Burrard Inlet. Eighteen of them died, and the incident claimed a 19th life when a diver searching for bodies drowned.
Lou Lessard, a foreman on the bridge, is one of three living survivors.
“We heard a big bang, sharp like a gunshot,” he told Global News.
“I fell about 150 feet, I hit the water, and when I hit the water I hit some driftwood, so because of that I broke my leg badly, the femur, one arm, my back, cut my face.”
WATCH: Second Narrows Bridge disaster
“As we remember and pay tribute to those workers, we are also reminded of the very important work we do to ensure that workers in all sectors are safe, and that our infrastructure is safe, not only for the public, but for the people who build it too,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said in a statement to mark the anniversary.
“We must learn from the past and continue to improve working conditions, as well as engineering and construction practices, so that everyone returns home safely at the end of the day.”
A ceremony was held in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon to mark the occasion and to honour the three remaining survivors of the accident.
WATCH: Second Narrows Bridge collapse
The Vancouver Whitecaps presented the survivors with the club’s new grey “Unity” jerseys, which team says were “inspired by the Ironworkers of British Columbia.”
Orr’s new documentary, titled The Bridge, is also slated to premiere on Sunday, with the first screening at 3:40 p.m. to mark the moment the bridge came down.
The film is built around 3,000 feet of full-colour 16-millimetre film that sat undiscovered for nearly six decades.
“People who do this kind of work do it for no recognition. They’re just good hard-working men and women, they’re the people who built British Columbia and they’re heroes,” Orr said.
“A hundred-and-twenty-thousand of us drive over that bridge every day. We take it for granted. But to build something like that, I can’t imagine a more dangerous task. Back then, no safety nets, no belts, heavy tools, walking on steel beams a foot wide, 200 feet in the air.”
In the wake of the tragedy, a Royal Commission concluded that human error — a faulty engineering calculation for a temporary support — played a part in the bridge failure.
The engineer who made the calculations, John McKibbin, and supervising engineer Murray McDonald, who failed to catch the error, were both killed in the collapse.
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