Little Bits of History

Quebec Bridge Collapse

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 29, 2014
Quebec Bridge collapse

Quebec Bridge collapse

August 29, 1907: The Quebec Bridge collapses. The bridge was part of the National Transcontinental Railway project. The Canadian government was in charge of the entire project. The Quebec Bridge Company was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1887 and revived in 1891 under John Macdonald and again in 1897 under Wilfrid Laurier. He also granted an extension of time in 1900. In 1903, the bond issue was increased to $6 million and at that time the name changed to the Quebec Bridge and Railway Company (QBRC). Another Act of Parliament was needed to guarantee the bond fund. Laurier was MP for Quebec East and Simon-Napoleon Parent was Premier of Quebec as well as the mayor and also the president of QBRC.

Edward Hoare was chief engineer for the Company even though he had never worked on a cantilever bridge structure longer than 300 feet. The total length of the bride is 3,239 feet with the longest span (today) measuring 1,800 feet. Collingwood Schreiber was the Chief Engineer of the Department of Railways and Canals in Ottawa. RC Douglas worked with Schreiber until July 1903 when he was deposed because he opposed the calculations that were submitted by contractors. Schreiber asked for more help and was denied. Contractor Theodore Cooper was completely in charge of the works.

By 1904, the construction was moving along. The preliminary calculations made during the early planning stages were never checked when the design was finalized. The span had been lengthened and no recalculations were done. The actual weight was much greater than the carrying capacity. By the summer of 1907, with construction nearing completion, distortions in key structural members was already in evidence. Norman McLure wrote repeatedly to Cooper who claimed the distortions were minor. The Phoenix Bridge Company officials claimed the beams must have been bent prior to construction. McLure wrote again and then on this day went to New York to meet with Cooper. An urgent telegraph was sent to the building site telling them not to add more load to the bridge.

The message was not passed on. Just before quitting time, after four years of construction work, the south arm and part of the central span collapsed into the St. Lawrence River in just 15 seconds. There were 86 workers on the bridge that day and 75 of them were killed while the remaining 11 were injured. It was the world’s worst bridge construction disaster. The bridge was rebuilt and collapsed again in 1911. Finally, in August 1919 the bridge was completed at a cost $25 million and 89 bridge workers’ lives. After nearly two decades of construction, the completed bridge was the longest cantilevered bridge span in the world and remains so today.

The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn. – David Russell

Every decently-made object, from a house to a lamp post to a bridge, spoon or egg cup, is not just a piece of ‘stuff’ but a physical embodiment of human energy, testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of use, value and beauty. – Kevin McCloud

But which is the stone that supports the bridge? – Kublai Khan

Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge. – Don Henley

Also on this day: Have You Hugged Your Hog Today? – In 1885, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler patents the motorcycle.
Last Man Standing – In 1911, Ishi was found.
The Ashes – In 1882, The Ashes rivalry begins.
Day Tripper – In 1966, The Beatles gave their last paid concert.