Odd Bridge Out
East Calgary’s Fourth Historic Bridge
The Other Historic Steel Bridge
The Langevin Bridge is the fourth historic through-truss bridge located in the precincts of East Calgary. It presently provides a oneway route across the Bow River for southbound traffic into downtown Calgary, coming primarily from the north-south artery of Edmonton Trail. The 4th Street segment connects the bridge to the southbound traffic of Edmonton Trail.
This structure, like the three bridges featured in the previous overview, is a through-truss bridge with a visible metal superstructure that was pre-fabricated prior to transportation, and then its final permanent assembly in Calgary.
The current structure is the second one to cross the Bow River at this site. The first bridge was wood truss bridge originally built by the Dominion (Federal) Government to provide a connection for settlers on the north side of the Bow River. It was opened in the winter of 1888.
In March of 1888 the City Council passed a resolution offering to the name the bridge after Hector Louis Langevin, who had recently regained his previous post as Canada’s Public Works Minister in the Government of John A. MacDonald (Note 1).
Langevin had previously been forced to resign for his role in the Pacific Scandal in 1873. The Pacific Scandal caused such disarray and chaos for the governing Conservatives, that the Government as a whole resigned.
MacDonald and the Conservatives would not form Government again until 1878. Langevin, attempting a political comeback, as one of the architects of scandal did not win his seat in the election that year. He was acclaimed to a vacant seat a month later.
With MacDonald’s death in 1891, Langevin was implicated in another scandal. The allegations of kickbacks in Dominion contracts (commonly called the McGreevy-Langevin Scandal) forced Langevin to again resign as Minister of Public Works (Note 2).
He remained a backbench Member of Parliament until 1896 when he left politics for the last time. Widely seen as twice disgraced, he virtually vanished from public view until his death in 1906.
The decision to name the bridge after Hector Langevin seems to have been motivated by City Council’s hope that he would take a personal interest in the City and that some of the costs, such as painting the bridge, might either be paid by the Dominion Government’s Public Works Ministry or by Langevin directly as a somewhat wealthy private citizen.
There is some evidence that this may have worked, in terms of Langevin visiting the City and defraying some maintenance costs. It however, was apparently a controversial move with at least some residents of the City and surrounding areas. For many years afterwards it wasn’t uncommon for the bridge to be referred to as Dwedney Bridge, taking the name of the road it met on the north side of the Bow.
In 1910 the Province of Alberta agreed to replace the first wooden bridge with a new metal bridge, to facilitate the City of Calgary’s annexation of the village of Riverside, which was located where the neighbourhood of Bridgeland is today.
Premier Sifton was asked by The Albertan newspaper, about renaming the bridge and he replied that it was a matter for Calgary’s City Council. James T. Child (Note 3), in his second tenure as Calgary’s Chief Engineer, told the newspaper that he preferred the name ‘Riverside Bridge.’
Aside from the readily visible fact that this bridge is composed of two Camelback Parker Trusses, joined together at a pier in the middle of the Bow River, this bridge is in many ways physically similar to the other historic bridges in East Calgary.
However, this bridge unlike the other three does not bear a prominent builder’s plate that reads “Algoma Steel Bridge Company Ltd.” Indeed, it completely lacks a builder’s plate as far as I have been able to determine.
The other three bridges (St. Georges Island Bridge, the Inglewood Bridge and the MacDonald Bride) in question were all built under contract with the City, by the aforementioned Algoma Steel Bridge Company, as were several others built in Calgary that are no longer standing.
Of these through-truss bridges built in Calgary during this time period, this is the only one built by a different company, in this case the Canadian Bridge Company, which later was a part of the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation.
Other noted projects by this company include the Lethbridge Viaduct and Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge, which sadly is currently slated to be demolished.
While mainly a builder of bridges in Ontario, examples of this company’s work can be found in many other provinces as well and a few U.S. states.
Only in Calgary though does this seem anomalous.
The investigation continues.
- Additional information on the Pacific Scandal and the fallout from it can be found on the Canadian Encyclopedia’s article on the subject.
- This biography of Thomas McGreevy covers the details of the scandal: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
- An interesting personal note: my family’s first home in Calgary was located on Child Avenue (likely named for Engineer Child) located in St. Georges Heights, up the hill from Bridgeland.
Désilets, Andrée and Skikavich, Julia. 2008. “Sir Hector-Louis Langevin.” In the Canadian Encyclopedia, edited by Davida
Aronovitch. Accessed June 15, 2015. Toronto, ON. Historica Canada. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-hector-louis-langevin/
Hooper, M.P. (Pat) and Hooper, Susan. 2014. “The First Langevin Bridge and Its Subsequent Replacement.” Tales of Our Past — Historic East Village, October 31, 2014.
McLennan, William. 2005. Where the Elbow Meets the Bow. Calgary, AB: Fort Brisebois Publishing.
Welin, R. A. 1977. The Bridges of Calgary 1882–1977. Calgary, AB: The City of Calgary.
With Thanks to Corporate Records and Archives of the City of Calgary & the Calgary Public Library
All photographs by Jack Hope ©2015. All rights reserved.
Strictly A River Crossing Article #2: Odd Bridge Out
First Published on July 16, 2015