Capilano Suspension Bridge - a Vancouver Landmark

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

The Capilano Suspension Bridge, hanging 70 metres (230 feet) above the Capilano River, was first built in 1889. Over its 130 year lifespan, the bridge has attracted visitors from around the world. It has been the backdrop to a storied history, as well.

In The Beginnings

In 1888, Scottish civil engineer and land developer, George Grant Mackay, landed in Vancouver. He purchased 6,000 acres of forest on either side of the Capilano River, and built his cabin on the edge of the canyon wall. The following year, with the help of a 12-year-old Coast Salish boy named August Jack Khatsahlano, Mackay suspended a footbridge across the river. Young Khatsahlano would later become chief of the Squamish First Nation, and namesake of the Vancouver westside neighborhood now called Kitsilano.

The 'Capilano Tramps'

Mackay’s summer home quickly became a popular destination for a group of adventurers dubbed the 'Capilano Tramps'. They would take a steamship across the Burrard Inlet to the North Shore, and then ‘tramp’ up the rugged trail to Mackay's cabin. In 1903, after Mackay’s death, the original 'hemp rope' bridge was replaced with sturdier wire cables. It was then opened to the public, at a cost of 10 cents per person. Now, the bridge is strong enough to hold the weight of 97 elephants, and is crossed by over a million visitors each year.

Bridging Romance

In 1962, the Capilano Suspension Bridge was the photoshoot location for Playboy magazine’s first Canadian playmate, Pamela Gordon. And in 1974, it was also the site of a famous psychological experiment about 'arousal'. In their rather quaint experiment, psychologists Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron discovered that men approached by a woman at the end of the suspension bridge were more likely to contact her later, and thus be more aroused, compared to a woman at the end of a more solid bridge.

An Indigenous Connection

In its early days, the Coast Salish people referred to bridge as the 'Laughing Bridge' due to the swaying and noise it made when the wind blew through the canyon.  Another interesting fact - Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is home to North America’s largest privately owned collection of totem poles. The name 'Capilano' is derived from the Squamish word Kia’palano, meaning 'beautiful river'.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge in the movies

It’s certainly not surprising to note that this man-made wonder has been featured on film. And it has also been the site of numerous television episodes, as well, including such shows such as SlidersThe Crow: Stairway to Heaven, and Psych.

All In the Family

In 1953, a man named Rae Mitchell purchased the bridge, and began heavily marketing it as a tourist attraction. He rebuilt the entire structure in just five days, and established the Trading Post Gift Store. Still in the Mitchell family today, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is an internationally renowned attraction. The beautiful forested surrounding area is indicative of the spectacular beauty of the region that inspires my art.

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