On today’s date in 1919, the Québec Bridge (Pont de Québec) opened to rail traffic following nearly two decades of construction.
The bridge, which crosses the Saint Lawrence River between Sainte-Foy and Lévis, Que., features the longest cantilevered bridge span in the world with a centre span of 549 metres. The record holds to this day; however, it comes at a cost: the project, having failed twice, took more than 20 years to complete and resulted in the death of 88 workers.
It was—and still is—considered a feat of engineering, and rightfully so: before the bridge was built, there was no easy way to cross the Saint Lawrence River. From the south, the only way to Québec City was via ferry or the frozen ice bridge that would form during the winter.
A March 1897 article in the Québec Morning Chronicle notes, “The bridge question has again been revived after many years of slumber, and business men in Quebec seem hopeful that something will come of it, though the placing of a subsidy on the statute book is but a small part of the work to be accomplished, as some of its enthusiastic promoters will, ere long, discover. Both Federal and Provincial Governments seem disposed to contribute towards the cost, and the City of Quebec will also be expected to do its share.
“Many of our people have objected to any contribution being given by the city unless the bridge is built opposite the town, and the CHRONICLE like every other good citizen of Quebec would prefer to see it constructed at Diamond Harbor, and has contended in the interests of the city for this site as long as there seemed to be any possibility of securing it there. It would still do so if it appeared that our people could have it at that site. A bridge at Diamond Harbor would, it estimated, cost at least eight millions. It would be very nice to have, with its double track, electric car track, and roads for vehicles and pedestrians, and would no doubt create a goodly traffic between the two towns, and be one of the show works of the continent.”
A working bridge wasn’t built until the early 20th century; however, the company responsible for the design and construction, Phoenix Bridge Co., failed in their duty as engineers. When it was decided the bridge would lengthened, the blueprints weren’t adjusted, and despite concerns about buckling in the half-built bridge, there was eventually a collapse in 1907. To this day, the collapse remains the largest bridge construction accident with 75 worker deaths.
A second attempt, this by a different company, was made at building the bridge; however, it also failed. The bridge’s span was so large it required some innovation, and the second company responded by building the bridge’s middle portion onshore before floating it out to the middle of the river and lifting it to complete the span. In 1916, as the workers put the middle portion of the bridge into place, their crane failed, and the massive span fell. Another 13 workers were killed.
Construction continued the following year and was completed in August 1919 at a cost of $25 million.
Today, the bridge holds three highway lanes; one rail line; and a pedestrian walkway. It has also previously carried a streetcar line. Since 1993, the bridge has been owned by the Canadian National Railway. In 1995, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
In previous years, as part of the Québec Winter Carnival (Carnaval de Québec), a series of “dollars du Carnaval” were struck.
In 1983, one of these dollars was struck with a design featuring the “Pont de Québec” on its reverse alongside the issuing entity, the “Ville de Québec,” and the year-date. The obverse features the “effigie du Bonhomme Carnaval” alongside the “valeur de $1” and the words “non valide apres le 20 Fevrier 1983.”