The standout landmark in Vancouver, British Columbia is the gorgeous green suspension bridge known as the Lions Gate. The bridge spans the First Narrows in the Burrard Inlet and sees an incredibly high volume of travel both over and under it each day.
Visitors to our city continuously marvel at its breathtaking beauty. But for the enlightened, the ones who choose to hire a local bike guide, the story behind the bridge is even more amazing than its awe-inspiring span.
Here are 10 amazing facts about the Lions Gate Bridge gathered by the guides at Vancouver Bike Tours:
- The bridge is named after Twin Peaks.
No, not the early-90s TV show. The Lions, that our bridge is named after, are the two (often white) mounds that rise above the mountains of West Vancouver. They were originally referred to as the Twins (or sisters) by the First Nations people of the area.
- The bridge was partly paid for by Irish stout.
The Guinness family, along with the City of Vancouver, paid for the bridge to be built. A group of investors, backed by the beer barons, had bought a large portion of land in West Vancouver. The new owners needed access to the city and a bridge seemed like a neat idea.
- If R.B. Bennett had his way, the bridge would have never been built.
Neat ideas are one thing, but it turns out bridges are very political. It took years for A.J. Taylor, the project lead, to convince the Federal Government that a bridge was necessary. One of the politicians opposing the project was former Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett. The CPR, who had land in Shaugnessy, a competing luxury development on the south side of Vancouver, was influencing Bennett. The CPR believed their investment would be compromised when access to the North Shore was made easier. Fortunately for Taylor (and the City) a change of government shifted sentiment in Ottawa.
- It took less than two years to build!
Construction on the bridge officially began in May of 1937 and was finally completed in November the following year, months ahead of schedule. The Brooklyn bridge construction took over 14 years to build, from 1869 to 1883. This project was considerably more challenging and done decades earlier.
- The Lions Gate has a strong connection to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Although the bridges are quite different in design, the Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable stayed/suspension bridge and the Lions Gate is a true suspension bridge, they are both supported by the same wires. The Robeling Company, who supplied the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge, also supplied the cables for the Lions Gate. Each cable is made of 61 inner strands and each strand is made of 47 pressed wires. It took the speedy bridge crew 16 days to hang 122 cable strands from the cable bands mounted on the main cables.
- The first woman to walk over the bridge decided to do it the hard way.
Evelyn Caldwell, a local news reporter was granted early access to the bridge for a story she was doing on the construction process. When she arrived at the site, the liaison, as a joke, offered her two options for her crossing: she could cross the bridge deck from Stanley Park to the North Shore or, if she was brave enough, he could escort her over the main cables from tower-to-tower. Never one to turn down an opportunity, Caldwell went with the latter and climbed the catwalk to the top of both 110 metre high towers. She did the feat in heels and a skirt. In her article, she offered this wonderful quote:
No bridge of sighs, the Lions Gate, but a bridge of heights and sights – unforgettable heights, unforgettable sights.
- It originally was a toll bridge for both cars and pedestrians.
Like the Golden Ears and the Port Mann today, the Lions Gate was originally a pay-for-use bridge. The cost per vehicle was originally 25 cents, with a cost of 5 additional cents per passenger. With two wide lanes and far less vehicles, users were in no hurry to cross. The toll was removed in 1963, with a centre-regulated lane added in 1964. Currently, even with the deck replacement in 2001, the bridge is far to narrow for the amount of traffic it receives. The Golden Gate Bridge, built during the same era is six-lanes wide.
- The UBC engineers hung a VW Beetle from the bridge in 1981.
The University of British Columbia engineers are renowned for their stunts and in 1981 they started a tradition of hanging a VW Beetle from the bridge deck of bridges around Vancouver. The boys in red became so ambitious that in the spring of 2001 they repeated the stunt on the Golden Gate Bridge. Somehow they all made it back across the border without being caught by the authorities (pre-9/11). Your Stanley Park bike tour guide will enlighten you about another prank the UBC students were able to successfully pull off in 1969.
- The lights on the bridge were given the nickname ‘Gracie’s necklace’.
The final involvement by the Guinness family with the Lions Gate Bridge was the gift of light in 1986. This was the year that the cable band lights were installed for Expo 86. They were given the nickname ‘Gracie’s Necklace’ after the tireless work of local MP Grace McCarthy. The lights have now been replaced with LEDs, reducing power usage by 90%. In yet another prank, the UBC engineers were able to modify the lights in 1988 to blink a Morse code message. Passers-by believed the lights were on the fritz, but they were actually spelling out the message: “UBC engineers do it again.” The code was translated to the Port of Vancouver by a passing cargo ship.
- A local visionary is preparing to offer guided assents to the top of the bridge towers.
This is not an April 1st gag; the rumours are true. Kevin Thomson of Gran Fondo fame (the mass annual bicycle ride from Vancouver to Whistler) is planning to start a company called Legendworhty Quest that will offer clients a chance to climb the 360 ladder rungs from the base of the bridge support towers to the top tower platforms. The feat would offer climbers unprecedented 360º views of Burrard Inlet, the City of Vancouver and Stanley Park. Each climber would be fully harnessed for the ascent. Prices will likely run between $250-$300. This would be the first-of-its kind in the world. The Transportation Ministry has already granted the project a two-year license. Thomson hopes to have it ready to for July 1st, as part of Canada’s150th anniversary plans. R.B. must be turning over in his grave!