Building a Vancouver Icon: The Lions Gate Bridge
North Vancouver Museum and Archives
Opened in 1938, the elegant Lions Gate Bridge is a Vancouver icon. Celebrated from the beginning for its grace and beauty, it spans the First Narrows of Burrard Inlet, marking the entrance to Vancouver's harbour and connecting the North Shore to Stanley Park and the city centre.
In the 1920s, Vancouver businessman Alfred Taylor envisions the bridge as a way to encourage residential development on the mountain slopes of West Vancouver. Even after citizen support in a 1933 plebiscite, it takes him and his associates four more years to begin construction. Taylor manages to fund the project through investments of private capital from England's Guinness family and benefits from low Depression-era labour costs.
Construction proceeds rapidly in the spring of 1937. A causeway is cleared through Stanley Park, caissons are set into the water for the south tower and an approach viaduct is constructed at the north end. Once the towers are up, massive cables are laid over them, from which the sections of roadway are then suspended. Riveted steel trusses run across the deck, bracing it together. Finishing touches include lights with finials and a pair of monumental lions by local sculptor, Charles Marega. Three hundred and sixty-four feet high and almost six thousand feet long, it is the longest span in the British Empire.
Helped by good weather, the bridge is completed ahead of schedule and opens to traffic on November 13, 1938. In May 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth ceremonially drive across the bridge during their visit to Canada. Regular commuters must however pay tolls to reimburse the investors, a practice that continues until 1963, even after the provincial government buys the span in 1955.
Traffic increases mightily over the decades, and the bridge is nicknamed the 'car-strangled spanner.' Despite traffic problems, most believe that preserving the historic bridge and its stunning views make up for the inconvenience. Public appreciation of its heritage value peaks in the 1990s, when the province decides to replace the deck rather than demolish the whole structure.