Zoobridge Stays Put on its 109th Birthday

may 26 - 1
Light of the morning sun on the bridge. Photograph taken May 26, 2017 by Jack Hope.

Today was supposed to be the big day, after the last two days of high winds and rain and other weather disrupted plans to lift the superstructure.

Weather reports this morning showed wind speeds between 11-18km/h over the day.

From early in the morning, workers could be seen all over the superstructure and soon they were beginning to attach the cables from the big crane to the bridge. At first the cable lengths seemed wrong, but it turned out they were set out to accommodate the off centre spot the crane is set up on.

By mid-morning, as a growing number of people were arriving to observe the activity.

It was a beautiful day actually, with some cloud cover but mostly sunny with bright blue skys, warm temperatures and just the occasional breeze.

Soon the word was coming around that the hoped to lift at noon.

may 26 - 2
Two workers are preparing the superstructure to be connected to the crane’s cables. Photograph taken May 26, 2017 by Jack Hope.

Noon came and went.

Soon an uptick in wind that threatened to exceed the safe maximum wind-speed for the move of 15km/h delayed any attempt. Another hour slipped by and the shores of the Bow River were crowded with locals looking to watch the lift.

It wasn’t until 2:00pm or so that they finally seemed ready to make an attempt.

We could hear the motors reving up and the cables tightened as the crane attempted to separate the superstructure from the substructure. The entire structure shook deeply and there was a huge rattle as the whole bridge seemed to crack and groan.

They seemed to have expected the crane to generate enough pull to detach any remaining rusted components holding the pier and abutment to the superstructure.

However, it was soon clear that wasn’t going to work.

may 26 - 5
Crane cables pulled tight while workers attempt to severe it from the substructure. Photograph taken May 26, 2017 by Jack Hope.

They broke out the jack-hammer attachments for their bulldozers and soon they were attempting to break the superstructure free.

After a time, they seemed ready to make a second attempt with the crane.

The same happened again, the crane seemed to be struggling. I thought I might have seen the structure come up a bit but I couldn’t be sure.

By 3:30 most people had wandered off and word had come down that nothing was going to happen today. Apparently the structure, had been estimated to weigh 90 tonnes but turned out to be almost 18 tonnes heavier.

The crane would need to adjust and additional weight would need to be removed from the bridge before another lift attempt could be make.

As Metro Calgary put it: The Zoobridge wins tug-of-war with engineers.


On May 26, 1908, 109 years ago today, the structure first called the St. George Island Bridge and later the 12th Street SE Bridge and colloquially as the Zoobridge, was completed.

According to an article published in The Morning Albertan (forerunner of the Calgary Sun) on May 27th, the bridge was completed the previous day and opened for traffic.

1908-05-26 zoobridge
Photograph from The Morning Albertan, May 27, 1908 by Princess Studio Calgary. Possibly the first photograph of the Zoobridge ever taken.

Copy of article “The St George’s Island Bridge Which Was Completed Yesterday” from The Morning Albertan May 27, 1908 via the Calgary Public Library.

The article ends on an effusive bit of phrase that seems out of place considering the considerable controversy (and the Morning Albertan’s role in the episode) around the bridge during its construction:

“The bridge is a credit to the city and to the contractors who built it.”

More on the interesting episodes in the construction of this bridge is coming soon, both via the ongoing live-tweeting and detailed blog posts.

But it sure seems today that the old bridge, on its 109th birthday, was not ready to go.

It’s spent the last 109 years sitting on that spot and confounding many people who have come across it, via its narrow lane or the people who have worked on it, and now the engineers attempting to detach it.

Its earned one last victory and its going to exit Calgary causing as much fuss as it did when it arrived.

Happy Birthday Zoobridge

A Note from the Author



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