The Elbow River is a watercourse with multiple personalities, that at times can be calm and serene or a hellish raging torrent. Spanning it, just south of downtown Calgary, is the 4th St SW (or Mission) Bridge, the subject of this then and now report. Built almost a hundred years ago, it has seen its share of floods and has stood fast for every one of them. I am certain the bridge will continue to serve the purpose for which it was designed for many years to come.
Located at the south end of the Mission District (a very trendy area today) it connects with the neighbourhoods of Roxboro and Rideau Park.
The current structure we see, made of poured concrete, was finished in 1915. Two earlier bridges once stood here, an wood structure built in the mid 1880s and a later steel truss bridge from the late 1890s. Both of these were located just east of the present day Mission Bridge.
The “then” image is from a postcard sent in by a reader of this blog (thanks Jim) and dates from the early 1920s. It shows some onlookers standing on the bridge and watching the fast flowing waters below. The Elbow is running high and is almost at deck level. At this point it would be very close to overflowing its banks and I bet there were a lot of nervous business and home owners in the area. Given the flat topography, if the river went much higher it would spread out far and wide very quickly.
It’s not known if what we see in the old picture represents the apex of the deluge or if it got worse. Records show that there were no major flood events in any of the years close to when the postcard was shot, so perhaps what we see is as high as it got.
It appears that in spite of the possible dangers, the bridge remained open to the public the whole time.
Major floods of note that the 4th St bridge survived include those in 1915 (the year it was finished – I guess a worker was swept away and killed), 1929 and 1932. In more recent times there was another bad one from 2005, and of course the devastating floods from the spring of 2013. In that event, the water got so high that the bridge was actually fully submerged for a time. It was a flood of biblical proportions! In spite of that, the historic structure stood fast and this author could find no signs of damage or repairs done to it. It appears it survived unscathed, a real testament to the quality of its construction.
A mentioned, the Mission Bridge is made of poured concrete, heavy and solid, and this no doubt helped keep the it from suffering any damage this time, or any other.
In our photo we are easily able to line up the shot, even in spite of the trees which have grown up in front. A pathway runs along side the river allowing one a good safe place with which to view of the bridge. On our visit the frozen Elbow hardly looked menacing, quite a contrast to less than a year ago when it was a brown boiling mass of water, mud and debris.
Outside of the outer railing which at some unknown date was replaced, the structure looks much today as it did back when the postcard was shot. That original railing by the way, was an amazing architectural element and it’s too bad it was replaced. The new one lacks the personality of the original, that’s for certain. Perhaps the original deteriorated and was unsafe.
The publisher of the card is listed as McDermid Drug Co. Ltd, who owned numerous pharmacies in Calgary and other locations across the province. They seemed to be a prolific regional producer of postcards and a search online shows numerous example of their work. All that we found were shot in black and white or in sepia tones, like this one, suggesting however they were made locally and in no huge numbers. Hand tinted cards, which was popular at the time, were made in far away factories and were only economical if a large run of cards was printed.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.