Nearly 60 years ago, Peter Hall was given the task of documenting on film the construction of the Second Narrows Bridge in the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.
Hall got more than he bargained for because he also ended up documenting the bridge when it collapsed on June 17, 1958, killing 18 men. It remains to be the worst industrial disaster in Vancouver’s history.
The rare footage of the disaster is still in his possession to this day. It’s a sad memento that Hall has kept in storage for nearly 60 years and has never shown to the public.
Hall, who lives in Parksville, became the custodian and owner of the invaluable film reels when the company he worked for, Dominion Bridge, closed down. Hall is now ready to share it to the world. He wants somebody to make a documentary out of it.
“I would like to do it but I am just not prepared to spend that kind of money,” said Hall, who shared this information on the 59th anniversary of the collapse last week. He was able to watch the film again, using an old projector at the Parksville Museum when he was interviewed by CTV News.
The film is in very good condition and well maintained. Hall said it’s an historic film because it not only documented the disaster but it also contains shots of the technical and engineering advancement that was involved in building the bridge.
“It was the first bridge that used a bolt in technology,” said Hall. “This is the first bridge that combined the riveting and bolt technique. Each individual piece of that bridge was put together piece by piece. They were huge. You can’t do it any other way because it’s so big. That was what I was documenting, and the fabricating at the shop.”
Hall is now looking at turning his treasured possession into digital copy.
“It’s 3,000 feet of film and this is just random footage,” said Hall. “It’s going to require a lot of editing to save the scenes that can be used. It’s a big job and it can be costly.”
Hall still remembers the day the bridge collapsed, and not only because of the magnitude of the disaster.
By some twist of fate, on that day Hall was immersed with work at the office and wasn’t able to be at the construction site. It saved his life. When he was finished in the office, Hall got into his car and went to the bridge. It was on his way there the bridge collapsed.
“I missed being on the bridge by five or 10 minutes,” said Hall. “Whether it’s fate or good luck, on that day I just didn’t go to the bridge. I spent just about every day at the bridge. I’d be walking on three-foot wide steel beams, 200-300 feet above the water.”
Hall, who was just 26 years old when the disaster occurred, said he just couldn’t believe what he saw.
“The day before, there it was, being built,” he said. “And the day after, there it was, a crumpled mess in the water and 18 people dead,” said Hall. “I was extremely sad because two of the engineers who died were my friends. The project engineer, I worked with him a lot. He was my mentor, he taught me an awful lot. It was tough.”
Hall doesn’t want the history of the Second Narrows Bridge to be forgotten. He wants the story shared with all Canadians.