Calgary’s once-controversial Peace Bridge turns 10 – Calgary
Ten years ago, and with great fanfare, Calgarians crossed the now iconic Peace Bridge for the very first time.
The bridge is now a popular destination on Calgary’s network of bike and walking paths, as well as a common setting for prom and wedding photos, but its construction was an uphill battle for many of its supporters.
“I like to joke that the structure itself represents the eyelashes on my back,” former Ward 7 councilman Druh Farrell said. “It was definitely the height of controversy, but it was worth it.”
Throughout the process, Farrell became one of the Peace Bridge’s biggest supporters, as the city determined three locations for potential pedestrian crossings over the Bow River.
In September 2008, the city council voted narrowly to approve the structure, which would cost $24.5 million.
A few days later, US investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, plunging the global economy into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The global economic climate as well as the cost and sole-source contract for its design became major points of criticism, which made the Gateway a political target for opponents of its construction.
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Current Ward 10 County. André Chabot, who was also a member of the council at the time, voted against the construction of the bridge.
“In hindsight, if I had known it would have turned out to be such a wonderful place, I might have voted otherwise,” Chabot told Global News. “But I would still have questioned the problem of a sole-source contract and the fact that local architects and contractors weren’t even given a chance to bid.”
The sole-source contract was awarded to world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, after some aldermen tried to scuttle the deal.
The awarding of the contract at the expense of local talent was also a point of contention for then-mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi, who at the time was campaigning against the construction of the river crossing.
“I had big challenges with the Peace Bridge in several ways. First, I didn’t like the single-source contract. It was almost as if they were like “Who is the best bridge designer in the world? We will hire him,” Nenshi said. “I wasn’t a big fan of the location either.”
“But it turns out that I was wrong on so many fronts.”
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The bridge, with its webbed, tube-like design, also suffered numerous construction delays, which Farrell said was due to its complex engineering design and height restrictions due to the helipad located to the south- west of the crossing.
“It had to be low profile to fit in a flight cone,” Farrell said. “In addition, we had ordered that there be a clear reach from the river, there would be no piles in the river, which is technically very complicated.”
500 days late, the Peace Bridge opened to the public on March 24, 2012.
An all-volunteer event drew thousands to the bridge, with many lining the path of the river hoping to be among the first to cross.
During the ceremony, Nenshi said he challenged the Calgarians to prove his misgivings with the bridge by actively using it to cross the river between Sunnyside and Eau Claire.
Just three months later, city officials released data showing more than 6,000 people crossing the bridge daily.
“I think the perspective really changed because people realized that it wasn’t just frivolous, it was actually extremely helpful,” Nenshi said. “I think at that point people were like ‘oh, so we really needed this and it’s also very beautiful’, and those things are something that we are capable of doing together.”
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Farrell said he noticed high school graduates and newlyweds taking their photos on the bridge soon after.
Ten years later, the bridge has been featured in local tourist advertisements, magazines, Calgary city documents, several top 10 lists, international publications, calendars, postcards and hundreds of thousands of selfies. .
Despite the controversy behind the project, Farrell fondly views the bridge as a turning point in the way infrastructure and architecture are built in Calgary.
“Calgary wasn’t known for its architecture…it was known for being vandal-proof infrastructure that was utilitarian and functioning, but not particularly inspiring,” Farrell said. “But we have a beautiful river, it’s a mountain river and I felt it deserved something extraordinary.”
In terms of lessons learned from the Peace Bridge, the former mayor of Calgary mentioned the George King Bridge to St. Patrick’s Island, which was built a year later without “any controversy” after a design competition among the public .
“This bridge, which is so beautiful, has never captured people’s imagination like the Peace Bridge did,” Nenshi said. “So in a weird way, maybe all of this controversy is actually helping to cement the legacy of this little bridge.”
Check out some photos of the Peace Bridge submitted to Global Calgary:
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