Bridges over the Bow!

Great river cities are often defined by their iconic bridges.  A recent trip to Dublin, Ireland gave me a better appreciation for just how important bridges are - not only as a means of transportation, but also as a means of celebrating local history and a city’s sense of design.

While Calgary lacks the 1,000s of years of history Dublin has, we do have several bridges along the Bow in the downtown with historical and architectural significance.  We have four historic bridges - Centre Street, Langevin, Hillhurst (Louise) and Mewata. Two are brand spanking new multi-million dollar pedestrian bridges by international designers - Peace and St. Patrick’s Island Bridges.  

Then there is the lesser-known Jaipur Bridge (named after Calgary’s sister city in India) that links Eau Claire to Prince’s Island.   And, we even have “No Name” bridges – 4th/5th Ave Flyover (three bridges - two for vehicles and one for LRT), the 9th St West LRT bridge with its pedestrian bridge below) and the Prince’s Island to Sunnyside bridge at the Calgary Curling Club.

Five bridges cross the beautiful Bow River at the northeast entrance to downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Jaipur Bridge recognizes the friendship and goodwill between Calgary and Jaipur, India.  In the winter the Bow River lagoon becomes a skating rink.  It is the entrance to Prince's Island Park on of North American's best urban parks. 

Centre Street Bridge

Did you know that the first Centre Street Bridge was built in 1906 by Archibald John McArthur so he could market his subdivision of Crescent Heights? So even 100 years ago, private developers were paying for urban infrastructure to facilitate growth!  The current bridge, which opened in 1916, was under construction when McArthur’s bridge collapsed in the 1915 flood.

 It’s best known for its four concrete kiosks each topped by a stately lion and two bison heads.  Designed by City employee James Langlands Thompson, they were patterned them after the lions in London’s Trafalgar Square.  The bridge offers spectacular views of the Bow River and city skyline, especially the juxtaposition of the Calgary Tower and Bow Tower.

Centre Street Bridge is a popular pedestrian link between upper and lower Chinatown. 

 Langevin Bridge

The current Langevin Bridge, opened in 1910, is named after Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation.  It is a “Camelback” bridge as the framework of structural steel looks like a camel’s back in profile.

Langevin Bridge by day.

Like the Centre Street Bridge, this is the second bridge at this site. The first one, a wood truss bridge opened in 1890 was called the Dewdney Bridge (after Dewdney Street, now 4th Street SW).  It provided more convenient access for settlers who chose to live on the unserviced lots across the river and the brothels along Nose Creek.

Today, it is best known for its 5,600 LED lights that can be programed in 156 different colour configurations to celebrate holidays or charity events.  (Back story: there was no public consultation for this lighting project and it cost just $350,000 – sometimes you just have to do it!)

Langevin Bridge at night. 

Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge

This bridge at 10th Street has connected downtown’s West End to Kensington since 1922.  It replaced the Louise Bridge a steel truss bridge (1906 to 1927), which had replaced the original Bow Marsh Bridge (1888 to 1906). The former was named after Louise Cushing, daughter of William Henry Cushing, Calgary’s mayor from 1900 to 1901. 

The current concrete bridge coexisted with the popular Louise Bridge for five years.  While the original name of today’s bridge was Hillhurst, Calgarians continued to refer to it as the Louise so in 1970, it was officially renamed it the Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge.

Made of reinforced concrete with five 32m wide arched wall spans over its 172m length, the bridge was rehabilitated in 1997, with a design by Calgary’s Simpson Roberts Wappel Architects at a cost of $5.1 million. 

The Hillhurst bridge provides some of the best views of the Bow River and the downtown skyline. 

Mewata Bridge

Built in 1954, the Mewata Bridge (14th Street) was the first major river crossing built in Calgary since the Louise Bridge in 1921.  It helped facilitate post-war suburban growth in northwest Calgary and the establishment of a system of one-way streets in downtown. 

A mid-century modern design, it was inspired by the recently completed Waterloo Bridge in London, England. Built using “box-girder” technology, it uses steel-reinforced concrete beams shaped like a tube with multiple walls. When built, it was the longest box-girder span in North America, the first in Western Canada, and the first in Canada to use the new technique of butt-welded, reinforcing steel.

Backstory.  In November 2016, a year after this blog was posted Norm Reid (now 94 years old and founding partner of Reid Crowther & Partners) contacted me to say he oversaw the design and construction of the bridge. 

St. Patrick’s Island & Peace Bridges

Much has been written about Calgary’s two new pedestrian bridges – Peace and St. Patrick’s Island - each costing about $25M. Both are quickly becoming postcard images of Calgary’s new urbanity. Together, they create a pleasant, circular stroll along the shore of the Bow River offering engaging views of downtown’s modern architecture, Prince’s Island and the new St. Patrick’s Island (opening this summer).

The St. Patrick's bridge shines onto the water rather than into the night sky creating an eerie atmosphere. 

The Peace Bridge looks more dramatic at night all light up than it does during the day - just my humble opinion. 

No Name Bridges

The 4th/5th Avenue Flyover at Edmonton Trail are the busiest bridges collectively transporting almost 60,000+ vehicles cars in and out of downtown every day, as well as pedestrians and bikes.  A spectacular introduction to our downtown for many tourists and business travellers, it deserves a name and an enhanced sense of arrival (perhaps they could be lined with the flags of the world as a way of welcoming visitors). 

The 5th Ave flyover (built in 1972), the 4th Ave flyover (built in 1981) and NE LRT bridge (built in 1982), create a brutalistic statement about Calgary as a futuristic city.  Brutalism was a ‘60s design movement focusing on the use of raw concrete as an exterior façade material.

The modern, white, minimalist West End LRT Bridge with its suspended pedestrian bridge underneath creates the perfect yin to the yang of the early 20th Century Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge to its west.   This bridge, opened in 1987, is an important legacy to the 1988 Winter Olympics, linking downtown and University of Calgary venues.  Perhaps “Olympic Bridge” is fitting. 

The Prince’s Island to Sunnyside pedestrian bridge built in 1972 and designed by Chandler Kennedy Architects is a bit like the ugly, older sister in Calgary’s family of pedestrian bridges. It carries the same number of pedestrians and cyclists as the Peace Bridge, but gets no respect.  As part of the Memorial Drive mega-makeover, the ramps to the bridge were improved, but the bridge itself hasn’t changed in over 30 years.  With some modern updating (maybe some LED lighting), it has the potential to be just as spectacular as the Peace or Patrick’s Island Bridges.  Perhaps it could be the “Remembrance Bridge” which would be in keeping with the Memorial Drive theme and it is close to where we celebrate Remembrance Day.

The LRT Bridge built for the 1988 Olympics also serves as a pedestrian bridge connecting downtown's west end with Kensington. It is just a few minutes from the Peace Bridge to the east and the Hillhurst bridge to the west. 

The  4th and 5th Avenue Flyover bridges as seen from Riverwalk.  The City of Calgary informed me that neither bridge has a name, but when taking this photo I notice a plaque tucked up on the concrete beam above saying the 5th Ave Flyover is actually the Henry Kroeger Bridge a former Minister of Transportation. 

The pedestrian bridge links Prince's Island to Sunnyside. A coat of paint with some LED lighting and this could be a signature bridge. 

Dublin bridge bag

Last Word

Doesn’t every bridge deserve a name?  Perhaps we need a public naming contest for our “No Name” bridges? Maybe there are better names than Centre Street or St. Patrick’s Island?

Many river cities have postcards and souvenirs celebrating their bridges. I wonder when this might happen in Calgary.



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Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

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