Calgary: Old Bridges Get No Respect

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog will know that I love bridges. This past summer I have developed an appreciation for two of Calgary’s older pedestrian bridges that don’t get the respect they deserve.

The Edworthy Bridge (whoops Boothman) has a unique design with huge holes that over a great place to view the Bow River. 

Bridge with big holes?

Even if you are a long-time Calgarian, I bet you have never heard of the Harry Boothman Bridge. I hadn’t until I researched on the bridge that connects Parkdale with Edworthy Park, which I had always heard of as the Edworthy Bridge. Logical.

The Boothman Bridge has a wonderful sense of passage created by the middle circle that frames the bridge's entrance.  The top circle frames Calgary's wonderful celestial blue sky. 

Calgarians from all walks of life use the Boothman bridge. 

It turns out it is named after a Calgary Park Supervisor and was built in 1976, but that is where the information ends.  I checked with the City of Calgary and they have no information on Boothman, the cost of the bridge or who designed it. The Glenbow archives has a photo but no other information on the bridge. Amazing!

Every time I visited the bridge this year it was packed with people (I must confess, my visits were mostly on weekends). In fact, it seemed busier than either the Peace Bridge (between Prince’s Island and Sunnyside) or the King Bridge (between East Village and St. Patrick’s Island). 

On the southside the bridge lands at a huge picnic area that is busy even in early spring. This photo was take April 3, 2016. 

However, I was told by the City that is not true - Peace Bridge gets about 4,500 trips per day in the summer, King gets 2,200 and Boothman 1,600. 

I can’t help but wonder what the public’s response was to the bridge in the ‘70s as it was a key link in the early development of Calgary’s Bow River pathways system.  Was there a controversy over the cost and design?  I highly doubt there was an international design competition.  I wonder what people thought of the concrete bridge’s design with the big holes.  I guess we will never know?

On the north side the bridge lands at a popular cafe and a sunny spot for buskers.  

Editor's Note:

After this blog was published Everyday Tourist loyal reader B. Lester wrote to say: 

The designers of the Boothman Bridge were Simpson Lester Goodrich; my old firm. We also designed the Carburn Park  pedestrian bridge (still my favorite; have a good look the next time you are in the area of Deerfoot and Southland Drive); the Crowchild Trail pedestrian bridge at McMahan Stadium (the vibrations caused by the crowds of football fans are always a subject of some awe as the crowds pass over before and after every game); and the Deerfoot Trail pedestrian Bridge near Fox Hollow.
The challenge for pedestrian bridge designers in the "old" days was to create an interesting landmark on a very tight budget. City administrators in those days were willing to consider interesting designs, but only if they cost no more than a bare bones solution. Our view was that crossing a bridge should be an "event" in itself and we struggled to come up with solutions which would create identifiable landmarks without spending additional public dollars.

I wrote back and asked for more in formation on the rationale for the design and cost and quickly received the following info.


The Boothman bridge was designed back in the '70's in the days of peace, love, and rock 'n roll. It was the fledgling days of the back to the earth movement with geodesic domes and round bird's eye windows. The holes in the bridge were reflective of that movement.
The principal designer was my partner Mike Simpson who, although an engineer, had strong ties to the environmental design movement (a founding partner of the Synergy West environmental consulting firm), to the Alpine Club of Canada, and was responsible for a number of increasingly "out-there" home designs in the following thirty years.
Mike is the visionary responsible for the Sacred Garden at St. Mary's church in Cochrane and for the Himat project, a sculpture created to raise funds to assist small villages in Nepal. He is a very unique individual and I was fortunate to work side by side with him for 25 years.
I have no records of the costs of the Boothman bridge though I would hazard a guess at around $300,000. Six years later, I recall having multiple discussions with the city to justify the $1,000,000 cost for Carburn bridge. (Probably equivalent to $10 million in today's dollars?)

John Hextall Bridge

Again, I bet you are scratching your head saying, “Where the heck is that bridge?”  Perhaps you know it better as the old Shouldice Bridge that you can see from the Trans Canada Highway as you pass from Montgomery to Bowness.

The Hextall Bridge was constructed in 1910 by local businessman John Hextall who sought to create an idyllic garden suburb west of Montgomery called Bowness. In 1911, Hextall negotiated with the City of Calgary take over the bridge plus two islands that would become Bowness Park, in exchange for an extension of the Calgary street railway system connecting Calgary with Bowness via the bridge. 

However, only a small number of houses and a golf course were constructed before the economic bust of 1913 halted most construction until after World War I. However, Bowness Park became an immensely popular leisure area – it was the St. Patrick’s and Prince’s Island parks of the early 20th century.  Park crowds of up to 4,000 people were common on Sundays in the mid 20s, huge given the city’s population being only about 60,000. 

The Hextall Bridge, the gateway to Bowness, continued as a street railway bridge until 1950 when it was turned over to vehicular traffic.  However, it was too narrow for cars plus a sidewalk so in 1985 the City approved a new four-lane concrete bridge, turning the Hextall Bridge into a pedestrian/cyclist bridge and incorporating into Calgary’s vision for a world-class, citywide pathway system.

The design, known as the Pratt through-truss system, is a type of truss with parallel chords, all vertical members in compression, all diagonal members in tension with the diagonals slant toward the center.

The components were manufactured in eastern Canada and shipped to the site for assembly. Ironically, this is similar to the Peace and King Bridges, which were also constructed elsewhere and assembled in Calgary.

Hextall Bridge's criss-cross trusses are a lovely example of the industrial sense of design of the early 20th century. 

Why Shouldice Bridge?

In 1906, James Shouldice purchased 470 acres of farmland about 8 kilometers west of the City of Calgary in a community then known as Bowmont. In 1910, Shouldice donated 43-hectars of river valley to the City of Calgary with the understanding that the land would be used as a park and that the streetcar would run to end of his property.  In 1911, the city created Shouldice Park, which has since become one of Calgary’s premier outdoor athletic parks. In 1952, Fred Shouldice, son of James made a financial gift to the City to build a swimming pool on the site. 

The bridge has colourful flowers at each entrance and huge planter boxes in the middel of the bridge.  Cyclist and pedestrians share the space with ease. 

No Respect

Personally, I think the Hextall Bridge is Calgary’s prettiest pedestrian bridge with its huge flower boxes and lovely criss-cross ironwork. But I doubt I will get many Calgarians to agree with me.

When I asked the City if they had any pedestrian/cyclist counts for the bridge they said they have never done counts for this bridge.  I wonder why?

The patina of the wood and steel (with exposed rivets) contrasts with the highly polished sleek look of Calgary's modern pedestrian bridges. 

Last Word

It is eerily how similar the stories of Bowness and Shouldice Parks are to what is currently happening in Calgary:

  • The idyllic visions of new master-planned suburban communities on the edge of the city.
  • The boom and bust of the 1910s. 
  • The donation of land and money to create parks and new recreation facilities by private citizens.

While all the social media chatter these days is about the Peace and George C. King bridge, it is important to remember that Calgary has been building bridges to connect communities to each other and to public spaces for over 100 years. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Florence: The Ugliest Pedestrian Bridge In The World?

Bridges Over The Bow

A Tale of Three Pedestrian Bridges