Thursday marks the anniversary of a Victoria tragedy, when a bridge failed and a streetcar plunged into the waters of the Gorge Waterway.
On the afternoon of May 26, 1896, the mid-span of the Point Ellice Bridge – now commonly called the Bay Street Bridge – collapsed as the Consolidated Electric Railway Company’s No. 16 streetcar crossed. Passengers – later determined to number well beyond 100 in a car designed for far less – were primarily destined for a mock battle at Macauley Point as part of celebrations marking the queen’s birthday.
“Due to lacking safety standards, poor bridge maintenance, and the overcrowded car, the streetcar fell into the water as the bridge gave out beneath it,” reads the Point Ellice House website. It’s a point of history for the heritage residence, as bodies were brought up to the lawns of Captain William Grant’s home. Boats raced to the scene to help and eventually, the streetcar was pulled onto the adjacent shore.
The loss of 55 men, women and children was recounted in news coverage the next day, which noted thousands filled the streets in an attempt to help or find out the fate of loved ones.
It also included eyewitness accounts of two horse-drawn vehicles and a cyclist also going down in the bridge collapse.
Warning: The video below contains accounts of deaths that include children.
A 1972 10-minute film documents the collapse and features audio from the coroner’s inquest that found the bridge, just beyond a decade old, had been “utterly neglected.”
Find the film, directed by Karl Spreitz with a script by Colin Browne, online through the University of Victoria Legacy Gallery at legacy.uvic.ca/gallery/spreitz/point-ellice-bridge-disaster/.
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