In 1911 the government of British Columbia recognized a new Johnson Street bridge to be an essential component of Victoria’s economic and industrial development. It began the process of constructing the vehicle and rail spans of the existing Johnson Street “Blue” bridge. The rail span was to providing access between the E&N yards in West Victoria and the many warehouses and industries located on Store Street and nearby downtown areas .
They bought the Songhees native lands on west side of the harbour moved the harbour’s First Nations to their present location in the back of Esquimalt Harbour, The move introduced the “Reserve” system to First Nations management that was to prove disastrous to First Nations culture for many dacades,
Negotiations then began between the Provincial Government and the City of Victoria, E&N Railroad, and B.C. Electric Streetcar Company over cost sharing. The parties didn’t reach an agreement so in 1920 a city referendum was held in which fed-up Victorians voted six-to-one in favour of a municipal bylaw to allow the city to borrow money to construct the new bridge. Lawsuits plagued the expropriation process for land around the bridge while unions threatened to strike because day-labourers were employed on the construction site.
The City of Victoria’s engineering office, led by F.M. Preston, constructed the vehicle and rail span’s substructure and the approaches employing 10,000 cubic yards of concrete. Engineers from the Joseph Strauss Engineering Company assembled the pre-manufactured 100 ton steel Strauss bascule components shipped by train from Walkerville, Ontario and attached their counterweights.
The bridge officially opened in January 11, 1924, 13 years after the process had begun. The final cost of the bridge was $918,000, 27 percent higher than first estimated. British Columbia premier John Oliver told the thousands attending the ceremony, “I wish to congratulate the people upon the completion of a protracted and somewhat expensive undertaking.”
The bridge’s original wood deck absorbed rainwater, making it heavier and putting strain the lift mechanism. It was replaced with open steel grid decking in 1966. The bridge was painted blue in 1979.
In preparation for its replacement, the rail span was removed in 2014. The remaining span continues to serve vehicle, cycle, and pedestrian traffic until the new bridge is completed in 2017.
Bascule bridge design
A bascule bridge, commonly referred to as a drawbridge, is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span, or “leaf”, throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for marine traffic. The name “bascule” comes from the French term for balance scale, which employs the same principle. Bascule bridges are the most common type of movable span because they open quickly and require relatively little energy to operate, while providing the possibility for unlimited vertical clearance. The fixed-trunnion rotates around a large axle is a patented refinement by Joseph Strauss of the fixed-trunnion bascule bridge.