On June 17, 1958, a span of the Second Narrows Crossing collapsed during construction—a tragedy that is still stands as one of the worst disasters in Vancouver’s history. The collapse sent 79 workers falling 100 feet into the water below, claiming 18 lives. (A diver’s drowning later pushed the death toll to 19.) The bridge was officially renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing, in honour of those who lost their lives.
Later this month, on the 60th anniversary of the collapse, a new documentary film The Bridge will feature never-before-seen footage of the bridge during construction and immediately before and after its collapse. The film features Peter Hall, a draftsman who had been hired by Dominion Bridge Co. to document the bridge’s construction. The Bridge premieres at the Vancity Theatre on June 17 at 3:30 PM.
Hall used a 16-mm wind-up camera to gather over 3,000 feet of film. Following the disaster, the company decided not to use the footage, and Mr. Hall kept it in on a shelf in his home for 59 years—until a fateful encounter with documentary film producer George Orr.
Hall had given an interview in a local Parksville paper about the lost footage. Orr read the article and immediately contacted Hall.
“I phoned him and said ‘What’ve you got?’ and I was astounded at what he told me,” Orr said in an interview with the North Shore News. “As he described what he had I was thinking, this can’t be real. Like 60 years later, the undiscovered treasure.”
The documentary features much of Hall’s original footage, as well as interviews with Hall himself and other survivors. It’s a poignant glimpse into part of Vancouver’s history—an event that obviously still feels very real for the many survivors interviewed in the film.
Much of the film was shot from the spans of the bridge itself, giving viewers a first-hand look at cranes hoisting giant steel beams, and ironworkers crossing girders wearing lifejackets but not safety harnesses. A Royal Commission determined that the reasons for the failure were complex, but centred around a faulty engineering calculation on a temporary support that was not properly checked. Both the design engineer and checker lost their lives in the incident.
“Bridge failures are much more common during construction than operation,” says David Harvey, P.Eng., Struct.Eng., of Associated Engineering Ltd. “A lot of work has been done since then to reduce the likelihood of any failures during construction."
The film also serves as a reminder of the importance of the quality of engineering work, and the ethics and professional practice standards that guard public safety. Engineering work is omnipresent, and its integrity is imperative.
“It’s a fascinating story,” Orr said in his interview with the North Shore News. “It’s a fascinating piece of the history of this city and of this region. If you’re at all interested in Vancouver as it used to be … this is an opportunity to look back through a really interesting window to get a sense of it.”
Vancity Theatre plans to screen The Bridge several times in June and July, but may mount additional screenings if demand is sufficient. Tickets can be purchased online at the Vancouver International Film Festival Box office site.
Photo credit: Screenshot from The Bridge documentary supplied by George Orr.