This Week in History


A Lion in the Vancouver Jungle

For the week of Monday November 6, 2006

On November 12, 1938, the Lions Gate Bridge, which would prompt the establishment of a new suburbia in West and North Vancouver, opened to pedestrians. The bridge links the heavily forested Stanley Park peninsula with the rugged landscape of the north shore across Burrard Inlet. It was a blessing to Vancouverites who, like all Canadians, suffered severe unemployment from the Great Depression of the 1930s.

A view of the Lions Gate Bridge, notice the delicate deck
A view of the Lions Gate Bridge, notice the delicate bridge deck
© Parks Canada / Judith Dufresne

Serious planning of a bridge began in 1930 when the engineer and entrepreneur Alfred James Towle Taylor foresaw the potential of West Vancouver, an area in which he had designed a new real estate development. The existing Second Narrows Bridge was deemed inadequate for the future suburban expansion. Not having the funds to match the grandeur of his bridge project, Taylor involved the Guinness family, who then purchased an extensive amount of land in the area. The proposed bridge was to pass through Stanley Park, the first public park in Vancouver. A major road passing through that park was unacceptable to Vancouverites who opposed, by referendum, the construction of the bridge. The severe unemployment, however, opened their minds to the project because it would provide much-needed work for the jobless.

The Art Deco lions guarding the entrance to the bridge
The Art Deco lions guarding the entrance to the bridge
© Parks Canada / Judith Dufresne
Designed by the Montréal firm of engineers Monsarrat and Pratley, its construction began on March 31, 1937. The bridge was opened to vehicle traffic on November 14, 1938. The bridge was named after two snow-capped mountains, “the Lions,” that guard the entrance to the Narrows. The entrance plaza in Stanley Park is defended by two Art Deco lions, modelled by Charles Marega, and complements the natural setting.

The original design consisted of only two wide lanes, which were found to be insufficient since in its first year of operation, an average of 2800 vehicles crossed the bridge daily. The bridge was converted to three lanes in 1954. By the 1990s, the bridge’s poor state of conservation combined with its inadequacy in servicing the growing traffic led to the crucial question of replacement. Vancouverites proved their attachment to what had become a Canadian landmark, by refusing to have a new bridge replace the Lions Gate Bridge. It was instead repaved and widened from September 2000 to September 2001, but still remained only three lanes wide.

Considered one of the most beautiful as well as the longest suspended bridge in the world outside of the United States, the Lion’s Gate Bridge is a celebration of Canadian engineering genius as well as a symbol of the city of Vancouver. Although not wanted at first, its sight is now a reassuring one to Vancouverites who would rather suffer the traffic delays than replace it.

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