Nov 252014
MacDonald Avenue Bridge

The MacDonald Avenue Bridge, or simply the MacDonald Bridge, spans the Elbow River east of downtown Calgary and is just over a century old. We look at it, first in the early 1980s via an old photo sent to us by a reader, and again in 2014. While the structure itself and its immediate surroundings have remained remarkably static that whole time, other elements seen, the downtown skyline in particular, what with all those new office and condo towers, remind us that change, as the old saying goes, is a constant.

The structure, built by the Algoma Steel Bridge Company of Winnipeg Manitoba, dates from 1911. A builder’s plate can be seen on it, above the roadway, on each end. It was one of many bridges built by this same firm, all around the same time and all similar in appearance, for the city of Calgary. Two of these are located nearby in Inglewood (9th Avenue Bridge and St Georges/Zoo Bridge) with another in far away Bowness (old Shouldice Bridge).

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That maker, presumably a subsidiary of the huge Algoma Steel Company of Sault St Marie Ontario, seems to have a short history – they lasted from around 1908-1911 from what I’ve researched.

This bridge uses a Parker Truss arrangement for support. It’s also sometimes referred to a Camelback Truss or Parker/Camelback Truss. It’s a common variant of the through Pratt Truss design and differs only by how the top cords are arranged. The Parker/Camelback uses segmented polygonal shaped elements (in simple terms, they dip at each end forming a sort of arch) where as a Pratt is basically the same, but uses exclusively horizontal top elements. The former is a somewhat lighter, but no less strong, but is a bit more complex to construct.

Connecting the well-established communities of Ramsay (east end) and Victoria Park (west end), the bridge carries a secondary road, and formerly a streetcar track, in and out of these two neighborhoods. A Calgary Transit bus barn is located on the west side of the structure but is not really seen from our angle.

This bridge has survived many floods, the most recent in the springs of 2005 with a really big one in 2013. A few years back the structure was thoroughly rebuilt. Oddly, there has been recent rumblings that it, and the other two of similar design in the neighborhood we spoke of earlier, may be threatened. We’ll keep an eye on this.

Notice how many new buildings have popped up since the 1983 image was captured. At that time, most of those seen were only a few years old. Calgary did not have many tall towers until the late 1970s. The city’s symbol, the Calgary Tower, built in the late 1960s, has not been obscured from this angle – but in the west, north and south, (today) it’s often blocked by other taller buildings. The new Bow Tower (right of bridge), completed a few years ago, is the most predominate building in our photo. Note the big condo tower on the far left too.

The original photo is courtesy Harry Palmer and is used with permission. Well known in the photography field, Harry has graciously allowed us use of his pictures. Not just this one, but others too, which will become fodder for more of these then and now posts in the future. His photo uses a much different aspect ration then ours.

If you have an old photo, your copyright or in the public domain, showing a street scene much like this and would like us to visit the location shown to see what things look like today, and then document it all on this website, by all means drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

All our now pictures are shot free-hand and outside some minor tweaking in post production, no cropping is used to help line things up. What you see is pretty much as it came from the camera. Sometimes the results are amazing, sometimes pretty good, rarely are they bad, but it’s happened and we own it and still put them on display. All are truly “honest”. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Recommended posts…
Moose Jaw then and now – CPR train station.
Calgary then and now – the Saddledome.
Calgary then and now – St Georges Island (Calgary Zoo) bridge.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: November, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

MacDonald Bridge Calgary

The MacDonald Bridge Calgary in 1983. Photo by Harry Palmer.

MacDonald Avenue Bridge

In the 2014, the bridge is much as it was, while the skyline has changed.


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4 Comments on "Calgary then and now – MacDonald Bridge"

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Connie Biggart
Connie Biggart

Good job Chris!