Crowds come to pay their last respects to the Johnson Street rail bridge

More than 100 watch the dismantling of the iconic bridge

Traffic and cyclists make their way across the Johnson Street Bridge while the rail-portion of the bridge is loaded onto a barge to be taken away.

Traffic and cyclists make their way across the Johnson Street Bridge while the rail-portion of the bridge is loaded onto a barge to be taken away.

Some described it as a party – others as a wake.

Well over 100 people braved the pouring rain for hours to catch the dismantling of the rail portion of the Johnson Street Bridge Friday.

Many arrived as early as 9:30 a.m. for the show, but it wasn’t until after 1 p.m. that a crane lifted the span and lowered it onto a 100-metre barge.

For Gary Mullins the day wasn’t as he envisioned.

The senior bridge operator quietly retired after 16 years last spring, despite his deep love for Big Blue. He had hoped for a grand event. He planned to use the bridge sound system to broadcast the opera Lakmé for the crowd, but realized it wasn’t possible.

“I think of the bridge as two different entities: The railway and the highway, the lovers,” said Mullins. “Lakmé, if you listen to it … this woman gives her life up for her true love. It’s high opera. It’s wailing and crying, and that’s what I wanted.”

Instead, the event was a quiet but good-humoured affair. Many came just to see the engineering feat. Others, to say goodbye to a significant piece of city history.

“I’m really happy to see so many people down here interested in what’s happening,” said Ron Bartrom, who came to watch with his wife. “We just want to acknowledge her and say goodbye because she served us for so long, basically with no trouble,” he said.

Bartrom’s also looking forward to the new bridge.

“The new one looks very intriguing. …  It may be just as important as the old one,” he said.

Others felt more somber.

“We’re witnessing the demolition of an 88-year-old bridge that is one of a kind and the only parallel span bridge that Joseph Strauss every built,” said Ross Crockford.

It’s also likely the demise of 123-year railway link to the downtown, added Crockford, who led the ‘no’ campaign against the city’s plans to replace the Johnson Street Bridge. “This is the point of no return.”

Jim Jr. Sturgill, of Cobble Hill, came down to take pictures for a book in progress.

“We’re just finishing volume two of the E&N Railway, which will be the complete history of the railway from 1905, at the time of purchase by the Canadian Pacific Railway, to present,” said Sturgill, the vice president of the British Columbia Railway Historical Association. Friday’s events will likely appear on the last page of the book, with a target publishing date of September.

Unlike most people, who gathered by the Mermaid Wharf condo for the best views, Gary Mullins picked his own viewing spot.

Listening to Lakmé in his truck while crossing over the Johnson Street Bridge, he turned right into the parking lot by the Northern Junk buildings.

Inexplicably, when he shut off the ignition, the CD kept playing. It didn’t phase Mullins at all.

“The bridge and I have talked to each other lots of times,” he said.

After watching for a while, he decided to head home before the rail span was lifted.

“I was feeling a little sad,” he said.