The idea was not a new one: it had been talked about since 1876. It was not until 1926, however, that the federal government became convinced of the need for the bridge. Construction then got under way on this gigantic jobsite. The project kept thousands of workers busy on the north and south shores for four years. To stabilize the piers, they had to dig right down to rock. A decompression chamber was provided for any who became ill working at that depth. Putting up this imposing metal silhouette meant working under extreme conditions. Five accidental deaths were recorded during the construction process.
The structure of the Jacques Cartier Bridge comprises three sections. The centre section is the most remarkable with its 334-metre-long span that is supported by pier 25, built in the port of Montreal, and pier 24, firmly anchored in the river. Its play of proportions made the challenge both aesthetic and technical. The highest point stands 50 metres above the surface of the river, which flows at a speed of seven knots in this stretch.
The piers in the southern approach are concrete, while those used for the northern approach are made of steel and concrete. In all, there are 24 spans on the south side and 16 on the north. They are supported by 13 steel towers and two concrete piers. The construction required four million rivets, 475,000 bags of cement and 33,000 tonnes of metal. And who would guess that the four finials rising up from the structure measure nearly five metres and weigh … six tonnes!
When it was opened, the bridge had four lanes reserved for vehicular traffic, plus two lanes that were set aside for streetcars, but ultimately never used.