When Chad Brealey got the call from the Ironworker’s Union (local 97) to join the team charged with assembling the components and building the new Johnson Street Bridge, he had no idea of the controversy that had dogged the project.
Nor did he have a sense of its significance to the community. Once he arrived in Victoria in early September, though, that all changed.
“When I got here it didn’t take long to realize this was a very important project. It’s an iconic structure that’s replacing a bridge that was, itself, an iconic structure,” Brealey said. “We have a special responsibility to do this work and leave the city with something to be proud of.”
Since arriving, Brealey has worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He and his fellow ironworkers are hard at it in all kinds of weather and the work never stops. “We run two shifts, so we’re pretty much at it 24 hours a day. Every once in a while we take a day to do our laundry.”
And make no mistake about it, this is hard, technically challenging work.
“I was involved in line-boring the holes for the rack, in the rack and pinion portion of the lifting structure of the bridge. We had to machine those holes to 1/300,000th of a millimeter or the whole thing would be done. You don’t get a second chance to do it right,” he said.
Despite the long hours and sometimes meticulous and stressful work, Brealey spoke about the project with an obvious sense of pride.
“It’s not often you get to work on something like this. It’s an iconic structure and we’re all very proud to be a part of it. It’s the sort of thing where, in years to come, I’ll be bringing my children and grandchildren to this place and telling them how I helped to build it. That’s a pretty great feeling.”
Kevin Thiemer came to the project via a different route, through the apprenticeship program operated by the Ironworker’s Union (local 97). After finishing his first year of studies at the B.C. Institute of Technology, he is working on his annual practicum for the three-year program.
Unlike a lot of his peers, his exposure to the practical side of his studies is unique in that he’s involved with one of the most complex and iconic public works projects in B.C.’s recent history.
“My uncle was an ironworker and he used to take us kids out and point to different buildings and say ‘I helped build that’ and he was always very proud of what he’d done. I know now how he felt,” said Thiemer. “It’s amazing to be a part of something like this.”
As an apprentice, Thiemer has been sent wherever additional manpower is needed and as such, he’s been involved with virtually every aspect of the bridge construction.
When he first got to town, the span had just arrived from China and he was on a team building the outriggers and stringers to allow the unit to be moved into position.
“Since then I’ve worked on the rings in the yard and helped during the big lift of the rings onto the span,” he said. “I’ve bolted up the counterweight and helped load up the counterweight, and in that process I’ve had the chance to use specialized equipment that I might never otherwise have had a chance to use.”
More than anything, Thiemer said he’s been impressed by the calibre of the workers who are on the ground creating the bridge from component parts.
And when the work is done and he goes back to BCIT for his second year of training, he said he’ll remember the lessons learned on the Johnson Street Bridge, and look back on his experience with pride.
For a collection of stories about the Johnson Street Bridge, click here.