Bridge Crossing History

The existing Johnson Street Bridge opened to the public on January 11, 1924. It is the third bridge crossing built at its location.

Victoria Bridge 1855-1862

The first known crossing over the Gorge waterway was the Victoria Bridge – a low-level wagon bridge built from 1854 to 1855.  By 1859 there were calls for its removal because it blocked boat access to the Upper Harbour.  The Victoria Bridge was dismantled in 1862 and replaced with a ferry service.

Swing Bridge 1888-1923

In 1888, a swing bridge was built to provide the E&N Railway with access to downtown Victoria.  Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald drove the last spike, marking the formal completion of the transcontinental railway, which had been a condition of British Columbia entering Canadian Confederation in 1871.

E&N Swing Bridge

E&N Swing Bridge with construction of Johnson Street Bridge in foreground (1921-1923) (City of Victoria Archives M09350)

Soon after its construction, inadequacies of the swing bridge were recognized. The hand operated swing bridge supported trains and pedestrians but not street cars or vehicles. The bridge also had a limited load capacity and required pedestrians share the same deck as trains, raising safety concerns. Local visionaries called for a new bridge that would separate trains from pedestrians, support vehicles and greater freight capacity and provide easier navigation for marine traffic between the Inner Harbour and the Gorge.  This led to the construction of the present day Johnson Street Bridge.

E&N Swing Bridge during construction of Johnson Street Bridge

E&N Swing Bridge at time of Johnson Street Bridge construction (1921-1923) (City of Victoria Archives M00320)

Johnson Street Bridge 1924-2015

More photos of construction of the Johnson Street Bridge are available on the Building a Bridge: Now and Then page.

Today’s Johnson Street Bridge opened on January 11, 1924. The double Strauss Trunnion Bridge was built to improve access between Victoria and industrial lands on the west side of the harbour.  It was constructed with two separate, yet parallel, bridge spans – one to accommodate railways traffic and the second for vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Johnson Street Bridge Opening Day

Traffic lined up in Victoria West on opening day of the Johnson Street Bridge January 11, 1924 – (City of Victoria Archives M00353)

At the time, many people saw its construction as an essential part of Victoria’s aspirations for economic and industrial development.  The lift span ensured access between the Inner Harbour and the Gorge waterway, both lined with industries such as sawmills and shipyards that depended on water access.  The bridge also provided access for freight traffic to the E&N yards and many warehouses and industries that were located on Store Street and nearby areas downtown.

Johnson Street Bridge under construction

Johnson Street Bridge under construction (1921-1923), (City of Victoria Archives M00314)

The Strauss Bascule Company Limited, which held the patents on the design, prepared the design for the bascule spans and the operating machinery.  The superstructure of the bridge was fabricated in Walkerville, Ontario and contains 100 tons of steel. The City of Victoria Engineering Department built the sub-structure of the bridge with 10,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Johnson Street Bridge 1921-1923

Johnson Street Bridge under construction (1921-1923), (City of Victoria Archives M00343)

The bridge’s original wood decking was replaced with open steel grid decking in 1966 as the original timbers absorbed rainwater, making it heavier and straining the lift mechanism.

The Johnson Street Bridge was painted blue in 1979.

Johnson Street Bridge 2011

Johnson Street Bridge 2011

The existing Johnson Street Bridge will remain open to vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians until the project is complete and new bridge opens in early 2016.

New Bridge Spring 2016

New Johnson Street Bridge Looking North

The new bridge, set to open in early 2016, will be the fourth bridge crossing between downtown Victoria and Victoria West. More than 50 per cent of the new bridge will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. In addition to maintaining three lanes for vehicles, the new bridge will include on-road bike lanes, a multi-use trail for pedestrians and cyclists, and a dedicated pedestrian pathway.

More on the history of the bridge can be found in a recent Times Colonist article and heritage assesment reports prepared by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Ltd and Johnathan Yardley Architect.

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