Point Ellice Bridge Collapse

The collapsed Point Ellice bridge from the Gorge Waterway looking into the Upper Harbour.

The collapsed Point Ellice bridge from the Gorge Waterway looking into the Upper Harbour. Photo courtesy of Vancouver City Archives: P247.1

There have been five bridges prior to todays Point Ellice Bridge to span the Upper Harbour between Victoria and Victoria West. The first was constructed in 1861, followed by replacements in 1872, 1886, and 1904. The bridge marks where the Upper Harbour ends and the Selkirk Water begins.

On May 26, 1896 a streetcar over-crowded with 143 holidaymakers on their way to attend celebrations of Queen Victoria’s birthday at Gorge Park, crashed through Point Ellice Bridge into the Upper Harbour. The collapse killed fifty-five men, women and children, making it among of the worst disasters in British Columbia history, and the worst accident in Canadian transit history. Only those passengers on the left side of the streetcar were able to escape.

On June 12, 1896, a coroner’s jury concluded that the tramway operator, Consolidated Electric Railway Company, was responsible for the disaster for allowing its streetcar to be loaded with a far greater weight of passengers than the bridge was designed to support. The city council of Victoria was found guilty of contributory negligence because the bridge had not been well maintained, and because council failed to take steps to restrict the traffic on the bridge to within safe limits. The design and construction of the bridge was also found to have been poor, especially in that the specifications called for weldless iron to be used though almost all the ironwork was subsequently welded.

The Consolidated Electric Railway Company was forced into receivership by the disaster and emerged reorganized as the British Columbia Electric Railway on April 15, 1897.

Following the Point Ellice Bridge Disaster, a temporary bridge was built south of the collapsed bridge and opened in December 1896. The remains of the failed bridge were dynamited in July 1900. The temporary bridge ended up being semi-permanent, because a new permanent bridge wasn’t built until 1904, eight years after the disaster. With ever-increasing volume and weight of traffic, the current and sixth iteration of the bridge was built and opened in November 1957. It reuses the same piers as the previous 1904 bridge, though they were strengthened and reconditioned.