It remains the worst industrial accident in Vancouver’s history.
On June 17, 1958, at around 3:40 p.m., two spans of the Second Narrows Bridge came crashing down into the Burrard Inlet below. The bridge was under construction and 79 workers fell with the spans, including many who were attached to the framework by their safety harnesses and then dragged underwater, and others who were crushed by the falling steel. Among the 19 who died were 14 Ironworkers. Twenty other workers suffered serious injuries.
A Royal Commission tasked with investigating the collapse determined that the primary cause of the collapse was faulty engineering calculations done on the temporary supports (called “falsework”). Those calculations and designs were done by young engineer John McKibbin and then missed by the engineer in charge, Murray McDonald. Both men died in the collapse. Other plausible factors included questionable quality of materials and a general lack of oversight.
The new bridge was completed and opened in August 1960. In 1994, it was renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing in honour of those who died building it.
It’s been 58 years since the collapse, but neither it nor the men who lost their lives have been forgotten. A memorial is held each year to pay tribute to the fallen workers. American country music singer Jimmy Dean sang about it in his song “Steel Men.” Poet Gary Geddes published Falsework, a “polyphonic narrative” based on the accident. Perhaps most memorably, the legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors immortalized the accident with his 1972 song “The Bridge Came Tumbling Down,” which includes the lines:
Nineteen men were drowned in June of 1958
In old Vancouver town
There were seventy-nine men working
To build this brand new bridge
To span the second and narrows
And connect up with the ridge
Earlier this month, B.C. MLA Jane Thornthwaite shared the following statement in regards to the tragedy.
On June 17, 2016, Ironworkers Local 97 will be honouring those who lost their lives. A service will be held at the south side of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, and all are welcome to attend.