Whether you’re constructing a bridge — or a business, for that matter — things don’t always go as planned. We know from situations such as the Calgary floods in 2013 or Tropical Storm Harvey that recently hit Texas that Mother Nature has her own plan that doesn’t always align with ours.
What gets us through these trying moments is the ability for people to be tenacious and react quickly.
It was those quick reactions in 1954 that saved a group of employees from getting hurt during bridge construction on the North Saskatchewan River.
“We had the contract on the Groat Bridge in Edmonton,” recalled Fred Fenwick. “We had studied the river records going back 80 years, but no incidents had been recorded of anything untoward occurring in the flow of the water.”
In August that year, the crew was about a third of the way across the bridge with construction and the decking when a severe rainstorm rolled in. With the river flowing above the level of the spring runoff, bushes and trees were pulled into the flow, jamming up against the bridge.
“One morning, one of the carpenters who was checking the posting underneath came up to me on the deck and said, ‘The posts are leaning.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ I crawled underneath. Sure enough, the posts were leaning, which meant that our false work bridge had started to lean. I told the carpenter to get his crew off the bridge.”
Fenwick and Fred Harvey, a resident of the Department of Highways, met in the middle of the bridge and Fenwick made a plan:
“I said, “I suggest you run like stink to the south and I’ll run to the north.’ We broke and ran, and that middle section came out between us.”
The bridge collapsed on August 26, 1954 after the river rose five feet (1.5 metres) in 24 hours.