zoo bridge.jpg

An Obituary

Source: Strictly A River Crossing 

The 12th Street SE Bridge (née St George Island Bridge), age 109, was permanently closed to all traffic on Wednesday March 29, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta.

Known to most Calgarians by the nickname “Zoobridge,” this was the first fixed connection between the three Bow River Islands (St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick) and the City of Calgary and which had been promised almost from the day of the founding of the Town in 1884.

Despite some birthing pains and hiccups during construction, the bridge was opened to pedestrians on May 27 and to carriages, mainly of the horse drawn variety, on May 30, 1908.

Described by the bridge contractor, the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, as a ‘Type D Country-Highway Bridge,’ the Zoobridge was a variation of a Parker Truss. Like most steel bridges of this type, it was initially constructed at a steel plant and then disassembled and shipped by rail to its next destination.

From that day in late spring of 1908 and with only occasional closures for necessary maintenance and repairs, the Zoobridge would connect Calgary to it’s new Island Park. Indeed, although it would come to be known for the Calgary Zoo, it would not have been possible to establish the Zoo on St. George’s Island if the bridge had not been built.

Although it was built to theoretically carry streetcars (an option never exercised), the Zoobridge was designed when there were few automobiles and the horse drawn carriage was the most common vehicle. Yet, over the years the vehicles changed, becoming heavier, wider and faster, with the bridge carrying much more traffic than it had ever been expected to.

The Zoobridge was the oldest of it’s family in Calgary, and is survived by three of its siblings: the 9th Avenue SE (née Elbow) Bridge, the MacDonald Bridge, and the Hextall (née Shouldice) Bridge, as well as other relations around Canada and the United States. The Zoobridge was predeceased in Calgary by two other sibling bridges, the Ogden-Bonnybrook Bridge and the Victoria Bridge.

A Community Celebration of the Zoobridge has been scheduled by the City of Calgary for Saturday April 22, 2017 from 1:00 to 3:00pm. The Celebration will be held on the south side of the bridge. For more information, follow this link.

The structural remains of the Zoobridge are scheduled to be removed from the site over the next 2 months. For more information on the replacement structure, see the City of Calgary’s Project Webpage.

Coming Soon: Part One of my detailed article on the history of the Zoobridge!

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Twitter Timeline


  • Each tweet is numbered in sequential order right at the start of the tweet.
  • The original date of the event being tweeted is included as a five digit number near the end, going from year (1907), month (03), day (11).
  • Every tweet includes the hashtag #zoobridge.

References and Annotations (Coming Soon)

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Frequently Asked Questions

Some (In)Frequently Asked Questions:

1. You’re ‘live-tweeting’ a series of events that happened over 100 years ago? Really? Why?

Why not? The idea to do this was actually inspired by  Amy Shira Teitel’s Vintage Space twitter feed, in which she has live-tweeted the Apollo missions. Most recently she live-tweeted Apollo 15’s mission to the moon (with only a 45 year delay) and this inspired me to share my own project in this unique way. Given the nature of my own project, my live-tweeting will take place in shorter bursts spread out over the next several months.

2. Okay, but it’s not exactly a municipal treasure, it’s falling apart. Why bother?

The St. George Bridge which was built over the 1907-1908 winter and finished that spring. It is one of the eldest of a series of public and private structures built between about 1906 and the start of the First World War, that have become historic landmarks. Buildings like the sandstone City Hall, Memorial Park Library, or the Lougheed Block, the National Hotel and many, many more date from this period.

There’s actually a great story behind this particular structure and it is a shame that’s its condition has deteriorated so much. Remember this bridge has given 110 years of service, and for most of that time providing crossings for a far greater number of vehicles (and much heavier vehicles) than it was ever intended for. It’s a shame that this particular bridge cannot be preserved as a pedestrian and bike pathway like its sibling, the Hextall Bridge in Bowness.

3. Where are you getting this information from?

All the live-tweeting is based upon my own research, mostly derived from contemporary media reports, original documents from the Corporate Archives of the City of Calgary, and the Archives of the Glenbow Museum.  Some of my research I’ve already used as the basis for articles for my publication (hosted on Medium): Strictly A River Crossing

4. Why start with the civic election in 1906? Isn’t that almost a full year before the actual start of construction?

Actual construction of the structure did indeed begin in November of 1907, however, the lead up from the 1906 Civic Election was instrumental in getting this project underway. After years of false starts and failures, the City finally managed to get the project underway starting in 1907.

5. What do you mean years of false starts? For one bridge?

A bridge connecting these three Bow River Islands to first the Town and later, City of Calgary, so that the Islands could be used as by the residents as a park had been promised as far back as 1883. I’m currently finishing an article for Strictly A River Crossing on the early promises and attempts to bridge the Bow and connect the Islands.

6. Why are some of the tweets coming from a different twitter account?

When I initially started this project I didn’t think it was necessary to set up a specific twitter account for the live-tweets. Hence, the first 81 tweets were sent using my personal twitter account @jackshope. However, after the first couple of months, I have found that there are a couple of backend things that can make this much simpler for myself if I have a separate, specific twitter account for this project. That account is @Zoobridge_YYC. Starting from tweet 82, all future live-tweets will originate from that account, although I will be sure to re-tweet them with my own account.

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Further Information

About the Zoobridge

Built in 1908, this 109 year old bridge has gone by three names over it’s life time: the St. George Island Bridge (named for the Bow River Island it connects to), the 12th Street S.E. Bridge (under the City’s functional name scheme) and most commonly as the Zoobridge. It  took its most familiar nickname after the Calgary Zoo was established on St. George’s Island.

The structure is a modified Parker Truss, pre-fabricated and then shipped to the city via rail for final assembly.  Built by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company, this was the first of several bridges built by this company in the City of Calgary over the next 5 years.

About the Author

Jack Hope is an blogger with an interest in Calgary’s local history, urbanism and photography. This project is a companion piece to Strictly A River Crossing, a history of Calgary’s steel truss bridges.

Find Jack Hope here.


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Zoobridge on Storify

References & Annotations (Coming Soon)

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I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to the Calgary Public Library, the City of Calgary’s Corporate Records and Archives and the Archives of the Glenbow Museum for their assistance with this project. These agencies are the repositories of the memories of this City and their staff have been incredibly helpful in the pursuit of this project.

I would also like to express my thanks to the editors and writers of Calgary’s early newspapers. Without these early writers, it would be all but impossible to have an idea as to what was happening during the early days of non-indigenous settlement in this region.

I would also like to express my thanks to Amy Shira Teitel, who’s own live-tweeting of historic events helped inspire this project.

And last but not least, I cannot ever adequately express gratitude to Tim Yarkowsky, Chelsea Parker and Richard Dame. They’re the reason I keep trying. Thank you so very much.