The Johnson Street Bridge under construction in 1921. (photo/ Victoria archives)

The Johnson Street Bridge under construction in 1921. (photo/ Victoria archives)

BRIDGING THE GAP: Harbour span’s history reflects city growth

Blue Bridge not without its challenges through the decades

The first bridge over the pinch point in Victoria Harbour was built in 1855 as a short-lived structure to allow for wagons to cross from downtown to the former Songhees Reserve lands. But the bridge blocked marine traffic to the Upper Harbour and after an outcry from mariners, it was dismantled in 1862 and replaced by a ferry service.

In 1888, a hand-operated swing bridge was built to allow for rail and foot traffic only. While the bridge accommodated the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway cars, it did not leave room for wagons. Not only that, pedestrians had to walk along the railway tracks; an arguably unsafe situation.

The bridge had a limited load capacity and was deemed inadequate for the rapidly developing city.

Rock Bay Bridge as an alternative?

While city council seemed anxious to replace the rail-only swing bridge, the debate went on for years. In a classic bit of putting the cart before the horse, it was decided even before a bridge was approved that the span would be built by the Strauss Bascule Bridge Co. of Chicago.

While that debate raged on, money was requested to improve the Rock Bay Bridge, a fragile wooden structure located at the foot of Store Street. City council objected to “spending any money on a rotten bridge,” a stance that saw the Supreme Court of Canada take them to task for not rebuilding it. The case was thrown out and the bridge was eventually allowed to rot and be washed away.

New Johnson Street Bridge finally approved

After years of debate and delays caused first by the financial crisis of 1913, then by the First World War, the Johnson Street Bridge issue went to voters in 1920.

The project was approved by a huge margin and it was determined that the city would borrow $420,000 for the work, while the province contributed $200,000 and the E&N Railway $100,000 for the project.

Even then, bridge planning was an uncertain science. The initiative put to voters called for a single span to be shared by the railway, vehicles and pedestrians. That changed to dual, side-by-side spans.

The plan to hire Joseph Baermann Strauss for the contract went ahead and, just over four years later, the bridge was ready. Dignitaries gathered for an official opening ceremony and a new age was heralded for Victoria.

The twin spans could open to allow the Upper Harbour’s sawmills, shipyards and other industries to have water access for their operations.

The bridge itself also offered land access for freight service between the E&N yards and the warehouses and industry on the Store Street side of the waterway.

It also allowed for improved travel between municipalities, giving citizens a direct connection to the western suburbs and, as reported by the Jan. 11, 1924 Victoria Daily Times, a thoroughfare between Oak Bay and Esquimalt.

The streetcar rails that ran down the centre of the vehicle span were never used and were removed a few years after the bridge’s opening but otherwise it seemed the structure was living up to expectations.

By 1966, however, it was determined that the bridge’s wooden decking had developed an unfortunate propensity to absorb rainwater; not a good characteristic for the Pacific Northwest.

The additional weight of the absorbed water unbalanced the bridge and put extra strain on the electric motors that lifted the spans. The wood deck was replaced with a steel grating.

By 1979 the superstructure had become severely corroded and extensive repairs were made. It was then that the Johnson Street span became the “Blue Bridge,” after the entire span was painted with the same light blue as the City’s trademark lamp standards, a colour that resisted fading.

Additional repairs were required in 1995 when the expansion of the steel decking during a particularly hot summer saw the bridge experience difficulties in opening and closing.

By 2009, council began discussions on the replacement of the bridge, a move that marked the beginning of the end for the iconic structure.

Find a collection of Johnson Street Bridge stories by clicking here.

editor@vicnews.com

City of VictoriaJohnson Street bridge

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The old wooden Rock Bay Bridge was inadequate and was left to eventually rot away to nothing.                                Courtesy City of Victoria archives

The old wooden Rock Bay Bridge was inadequate and was left to eventually rot away to nothing. Courtesy City of Victoria archives

Just Posted

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Victoria police arrested a man Jan. 15 after he rammed his minivan into an occupied police vehicle. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria man arrested for ramming minivan into occupied police vehicle

Man caught after fleeing, crashing into cement retaining wall

Mayor Rob Martin and Costa Canna president Phil Floucault cut the ribbon on Colwood’s first cannabis retail store. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Cowichan Tribes’ Costa Canna cannabis store opens in Colwood

Cowichan Tribes has one-year deal to grow, sell cannabis

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read