The Point Ellice Bridge Disaster
The collapsed Point Ellice bridge from the Gorge Waterway looking into the Upper Harbour. Photo courtesy of Vancouver City Archives: P247.1
n May 26, 1896 a streetcar crowded with 143 holidaymakers on their way to attend celebrations of Queen Victoria’s birthday, crashed through Point Ellice Bridge into the Upper Harbour. 55 men, women and children were killed in the accident, making this one 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, the Consolidated Electric Railway Company, was responsible for the disaster because it allowed its streetcar to be loaded with a much greater weight of passengers than the bridge was designed to support. The city council of Victoria was found to be 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 but that the ironwork was almost all 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.
Today’s Bay Street Bridge
Today’s Bay Street Bridge, links Victoria and Victoria West. It spans the Upper Harbour at the same location as the original Point Ellice Bridge once did. The bridge marks where the Upper Harbour ends and the Selkirk Water begins.