In 2005, the Lions Gate Bridge was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. It is certainly one of Vancouver's most iconic landmarks, and in fact, has quite an interesting history.
The Lions Gate Bridge was the brainchild of an engineering contractor named A.J. Taylor. Born in Victoria in 1887, by the early 1920's he had become one of Vancouver's most successful entrepreneurs. Then Taylor set his sights on West Vancouver, realizing the potential value of its real estate.
The problem was, in those days, West Vancouver was rather inaccessible. Even after the construction of the Second Narrows Bridge in 1925, that area was still fairly remote. Taylor began campaigning for support to build a bridge over the first narrows. The Canadian Pacific Railway, however, had extensive holdings in the downtown Vancouver and Shaughnessy districts. They vehemently opposed Taylor's idea, thinking the development of properties on the north shore would lower the value of their holdings. There were also many who opposed building a road through Stanley Park. So in 1927, the city held a plebiscite. But Taylor's bridge proposal was voted down.
Building the Bridge
Undaunted, Taylor pursued his idea, and spent the next few years looking for financial backing. He was able to convince the Guinness family of the tremendous financial opportunity the North Shore represented. By the 1930's, in the midst of the Great Depression, the political climate was now ripe for a large scale construction project. The municipality of West Vancouver was also in financial difficulty. Taylor cut a deal to purchase 4,700 acres, at a cost of $18.75 per acre! In return, Taylor promised to spend $1 million in municipal improvements, including sewers and water mains. Their purchase became known as the 'British Properties'.
In 1933, after making his property deal with the municipality of West Vancouver, Taylor personally financed a second plebiscite. This time, it passed by a 2 to 1 margin. After some further wrangling with the federal government, construction of the bridge finally began on March 31st, 1937. A year and a half later, on November 14th, 1938, the Lions Gate Bridge was opened to the public.
More Fun Facts
2. Miraculously, the Burrard Inlet shipping lane remained open for the entire duration of the bridge's construction, save for one hour, at 4:50 am on May 2, 1938.
3. The Guinness family footed the bill for the bridge, at a total cost of $5,873,837.17. Then, in 1955, they sold the bridge back to the province at cost.
4. Upon its completion, the Lions Gate bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the British Empire.
5. The bridge was 'officially' christened on May 29th, 1939, by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Changes Through the Years
6. A pair of cast concrete lions, designed by Vancouver sculptor, Charles Marega, were erected on either side of the south end the bridge in January 1939. But the name, 'Lions Gate', is actually in reference to the pair of mountain peaks on the North Shore that resemble lion heads.
7. Taylor’s baby shoes were encased in one of the lion sculptures that guard the southern entrance of the bridge.
8. The lights, which make the bridge sparkle at night, were a gift to the city from the Guinness family, to celebrate Expo 1986.
9. Until 1963, the Lions Gate Bridge was a toll bridge. The fee was 25 cents per car, and 5 cents for pedestrians and cyclists.
10. Originally two lanes, today it's a three-lane reversible direction bridge. serving more than 60,000 vehicles every day.
Jutting out from the north end of Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge stands as a proud symbol of our beautiful city. Be sure to check out my painting of the bridge.