Farewell Zoobridge (1908–2017)
An Obituary for a Historic Steel Bridge
The 12th Street SE Bridge (née St George Island Bridge), age 109, was permanently closed to all traffic on Wednesday March 29, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta.
Known to most Calgarians by the nickname “Zoobridge,” this was the first fixed connection between the three Bow River Islands (St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick) and the City of Calgary and which had been promised almost from the day of the founding of the Town in 1884.
Despite some birthing pains and hiccups during construction, the bridge was opened to pedestrians on May 27 and to carriages, mainly of the horse drawn variety, on May 30, 1908.
Described by the bridge contractor, the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, as a ‘Type D Country-Highway Bridge,’ the Zoobridge was a variation of a Parker Truss. Like most steel bridges of this type, it was initially constructed at a steel plant and then disassembled and shipped by rail to its next destination.
From that day in late spring of 1908 and with only occasional closures for necessary maintenance and repairs, the Zoobridge would connect Calgary to it’s new Island Park. Indeed, although it would come to be known for the Calgary Zoo, it would not have been possible to establish the Zoo on St. George’s Island if the bridge had not been built.
Although it was built to theoretically carry streetcars (an option never exercised), the Zoobridge was designed when there were few automobiles and the horse drawn carriage was the most common vehicle. Yet, over the years the vehicles changed, becoming heavier, wider and faster, with the bridge carrying much more traffic than it had ever been expected to.
The Zoobridge was the oldest of it’s family in Calgary, and is survived by three of its siblings: the 9th Avenue SE (née Elbow) Bridge, the MacDonald Bridge, and the Hextall (née Shouldice) Bridge, as well as other relations around Canada and the United States. The Zoobridge was predeceased in Calgary by two other sibling bridges, the Ogden-Bonnybrook Bridge and the Victoria Bridge.
Update (Sunday April 16, 2017):
A Community Celebration of the Zoobridge has been scheduled by the City of Calgary for Saturday April 22, 2017 from 1:00 to 3:00pm. It will be held in the park on the south side of the old bridge. For further details follow this link: Zoobridge Celebration.
The structural remains of the Zoobridge are scheduled to be removed from the site over the next 2 months. For more information on the replacement structure, see the City of Calgary’s Project Webpage.
Part One of my detailed article on the history of the Zoobridge ~ Coming Soon!