Victoria Bridge


Conception

The construction of the Victoria Bridge was one of the greatest technological innovations of the nineteenth century. It was a colossal undertaking, both in terms of engineering and logistics.

More than 3,000 workers, largely of Irish stock, took part in this gargantuan project. To maximize the number of working hours, many of them were housed in “Victoriatown,” a series of temporary camps set up in Montreal and in St. Lambert on the South Shore. There were even children as young as nine to fifteen years old labouring on the site.

Just imagine the challenges that faced chief engineer James Hodge, who was in charge of building this enclosed tube. One of them was the environment itself: the water froze every winter, the river was 2.5 km wide here and the current flowed by at a speed of 11 knots. Caissons therefore had to be installed so that work could proceed in dry docks and the piers could be firmly anchored. It took more than 1,500,000 rivets to hold together this immense structure completed in five years and five months!

The bridge's tubular shape turned it into a virtual sarcophagus when oil and coal began to supplant wood as engine fuel in the 1870s. A dense, black smoke remained trapped in the tube and made some passengers ill on the journey between Montreal and St. Lambert. The engineer even had to stop the train before crossing the bridge to make sure that all the windows in the cars were properly closed!

The tubular structure could not accommodate the double track needed to handle rail traffic between Chicago and Montreal, and was also exposed to side winds. In 1897-1898, this long tube was replaced with a larger, open structure, made of steel trusses, that had two tracks instead of one and a cantilevered roadway on either side. This structure, renamed the Victoria Jubilee Bridge, is the one we know today. It was during its construction, moreover, that Mohawks from Kahnawake developed their legendary reputation for their ability to defy the dizzying challenge of working at great heights.

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Victoria Bridge (drawing)

© Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, © Héritage Montréal

Image : HM_ARC_002395

Victoria Bridge engraving

© Division des archives de l'Université de Montréal, © Héritage Montréal

Image : HM_ARC_002296

Workers at the entrance to Victoria Bridge

© Courtesy of Bell Canada Historical Collection, © Héritage Montréal

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Men posing at the entrance of the Victoria Jubilee Bridge

© Transports Québec © Héritage Montréal

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Victoria Bridge, workers in construction

© Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, © Héritage Montréal

Image : HM_ARC_004239

Entrance to Victoria Bridge, Montreal, QC, 1896
Alfred Walter Roper
1896
12 cm x 10 cm
© McCord Museum, © Héritage Montréal

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Central tube, Victoria bridge, Montréal, QC, 1859
William Notman
1859
26 cm x 21 cm
© McCord Museum, © Héritage Montréal

Image : HM_ARC_004241

Interior, Victoria Bridge, Montreal, QC, 1858
William Notman
1858
7 cm x 7.3 cm
© McCord Museum, © Héritage Montréal

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The Men who contructed the Victoria bridge
1897-1899
© Rare Books and Special Collections Division, McGill University Library, © Héritage Montréal

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Inauguration of Victoria Bridge and fireworks (drawing)

© Division des archives de l'Université de Montréal, © Héritage Montréal

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Ticket for the inauguration of Victoria Bridge
1860
© Division des archives de l'Université de Montréal, © Héritage Montréal

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Distinguished guests at the inauguration of the Victoria Jubilee Bridge

© Transports Québec © Héritage Montréal

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Victoria Bridge

© Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, © Héritage Montréal

Image : HM_ARC_004133

Photograph of the deck of the Victoria bridge

© Rare Books and Special Collections Division, McGill University Library, © Héritage Montréal