The history of the Québec Bridge


A masterpeice of engineering, a historic structure and a strategic asset

The first construction

The Québec Bridge, originally built as a railway bridge, was designed to link the two shores of the St. Lawrence River and the railways in Quebec and the United States, which was then operated by 11 railroad companies.

The design included two tracks for trains and one lane of roadway. At the time of its construction, the Bridge was the longest clear span bridge in the world, including all types of bridges, with an opening measuring 1800 feet (549 metres) between its main pillars. To this day, the Québec Bridge is the longuest cantilevering bridge in the world.

Its construction dates back to October 2, 1900, when then Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, placed the first cornerstone. Unfortunately a few years later, on August 29, 1907, the south section of the Bridge’s frame collapsed, killing 76 workers, including 33 Mohawk workers from the Kahnawake community.

On August 17, 1908, the Minister of Railways and Canals tasked 3 engineers, including the Canadian H.E. Vautelet, with carrying out necessary changes to the bridge’s basic design. This led to the use of nickel alloy steel to increase resistance to breakage.

In 1913, construction restarted, and the central span was built in Sillery Cove from May to July 1916. However, the Bridge tragically collapsed for a second time, on September 11, 1916, causing the death of 13 workers and injuring more than 14 others. To this day, the collapsed central span rests at the bottom of the river.

Final construction

On September 20, 1917, the construction and installation of a new span were successfully completed connecting the two sides of the St. Lawrence River. On October 17, 1917, the first locomotive, with two passenger cars carrying 400 passengers, crossed over the river to the south shore and back. The Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII of England, officially inaugurated the Bridge on August 29, 1919.

Configuration of the bridge decks

In 1929, a roadway was added to the Bridge’s two rail lines to accommodate the needs of residents in the greater Québec City area, and it operated as a toll bridge for cars from 1929 to 1942. In 1949, federal authorities decided to change the configuration of the decks by repurposing one of the rail lines for car traffic. To meet the growing traffic between the shores, a third roadway was added in 1993.

Cultural value

The Québec Bridge is both an architectural gem and a national historical site. On May 23, 1987, the Bridge was designated a Historical Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers to highlight the technical challenge of its construction at the beginning of the century. At the time, this honour had been awarded to only four other civil engineering works worldwide. On November 24, 1995, the Government of Canada designated the Bridge a National Historic Site, recognizing it as the most important bridge in the history of Canadian civil engineering.

Strategic connection

Today, the Québec Bridge continues to allow passengers and goods to move freely between the two shores of the St. Lawrence River and to other destinations in Canada and North America. Over 33,000 vehicles, including 404 public transit buses, and approximately 10 VIA Rail passenger trains and 3 CN freight trains cross the Québec Bridge every day. Furthermore, the Bridge supports 1000 pedestrian and cyclist crossings per day in the summer months.

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