For this then and now series we look at the St George’s Island (or Zoo Island) Bridge in Calgary. The first view is from an undated postcard and the second was shot by us recently. In spite of our angles being off a bit, we can see that the bridge has changed little in the century or so that has passed between the two images being taken.
The bridge was built in 1908 by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company in Winnipeg Manitoba. Along with the one, there are several other bridges of a similar design and vintage, and all from that same company, in the immediate area. Two cross the Elbow River just east of this one and are separated by a few hundred metres. Another example can be found outside of downtown near Bowness. Expect reports on them at some point in the future.
This bridge is of the Camelback Truss or Parker Camelback Truss design and is rather frail looking. Don’t worry it’s only in appearances and it’s able to handle the load even today. Designed when horse and buggies were the norm, it carries vehicular traffic now and is used to access the Calgary Zoo on St Georges Island from the neighbourhood of Inglewood; or to get to Memorial Drive further north.
In spite of its age, the bridge seems to be holding up well. In fact it survived the spring 2013 floods without a problem, a testament to the people who built it. The main spans cross the deeper north section of the Bow River while a open-deck section spans the shallower south side of that waterway.
Open only to cars and light trucks, the narrow width makes crossing it quite a nail biter, especially if there is oncoming traffic. It’s possible and it has happened where two vehicles have hit mirrors in passing.
At one time, as seen in the “then” image, there was a walkway on the bridge’s west side. That was blocked off at some unknown date and a new walkway added to the opposite side. The remains of the former can still be seen on the main spans. Outside of that change, and the different guard rails, the similarity between the old and new pictures is quite amazing.
When the bridge was built, residences existed on St Georges Island and in fact some were quite stately based upon old pictures this author has seen. Early on the island also became home to an animal park (around World War One) and later a full blown zoo which has been expanded upon numerous times encompassing nearly the entire island. In fact it has outgrown the this space and some of the attractions are on the “mainland” north of it. The zoo suffered much damage due to the spring 2013 floods mentioned earlier.
The only non-zoo section of the island is a public park, located on a small sliver of land on the west end.
Based upon the style of dress seen on the people in the postcard, one could guess the undated image is from the 1910s. At the time the photo was taken Inglewood, which would have been behind the photographer, was a nice respectable working class neighbourhood. By the 1960s and 70s, it was in serious decline but has since bounced back. In fact, it’s quite trendy now.
I have not been able to find out what the future holds in store for this bridge. Will it be kept or are there plans to replace it? This author could not find any data on this. It seems to be doing its job well and it’s certainly historic, so perhaps those are enough to keep it in service.
There is a second much smaller and more modern concrete span connecting St Georges Island to the outside world on the north side.
The postcard seen was donated by a reader (thanks Jack). As was typical for the time, the colour image was in fact a black and white photo that was hand tinted – true colour photography then was rare and the process to print them far too expensive.
To get my photo I had to dodge traffic, so forgive if it does not line up perfectly.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.