1950s bridge collapse and aftermath captured in images

1950s collapse on camera

A bridge that was part of a vital Second World War link in northern B.C. lasted only 14 years.

Vernon historian and videographer Francois Arseneault has dug up photographs of its collapse and colour footage of the aftermath.

The suspension bridge had been erected in less than nine months as part of the Alaska Highway, an important service road of the Northwest Staging Route — a series of airstrips across northern Canada used to ferry aircraft and other supplies to Alaska and the Soviet Union.

Arseneault says the bridge collapsed following a landslide under one of its abutments.

No one was injured, but an important transportation link was temporarily cut.

“In 1946, the bridge and the highway became part of the Canadian government’s Northwest Highway System maintained by the Royal Canadian Engineers,” says Arseneault. “About 11 p.m. on 15 October 1957, the bridge was closed to traffic by an unusual subsidence, or movement of the shale rock, at the north abutment. Over the next 12 hours, a landslide on the north bank carried a million cubic metres of shale — and the anchor block — several metres towards the river, over-stressing the suspension cables and eventually rupturing the cables that carried the load of the bridge deck up to the suspension cables from the side span.”

Traffic was restored a week later by a 70-ton ferry, which operated until the river froze three weeks later.

Meanwhile, a newly constructed railway bridge, five kilometres upstream, was selected as a temporary crossing. The bridge was decked and curbed, and guardrails were placed to protect the single lane of traffic. Round-the-clock traffic control was provided by Canadian Army units.

The detours functioned for two years until the suspension bridge was replaced.

Arseneault is always looking for more information on the vintage footage he digs up, and he encourages people to add their input in the comments section on his Youtube page.

Anyone who may have old 16 mm or 8 mm film footage of the Vernon and Okanagan area is invited to email Arseneault at [email protected].

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