The most beautiful bridge north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate, Lions Gate Bridge brought Vancouver into the automobile age and heralded the era of auto-dependent suburbs when it opened in 1938. The Guinness brewing company was the primary financier, intent on providing access to its British Properties development in West Vancouver. Bisecting Stanley Park for the bridge’s causeway was the most controversial issue, but the proponents’ promise of jobs was too good to turn down, as the city was mired in the Great Depression. In 1933, the Park Board voted in favour of it, with only one commissioner opposed.
The idea to build a bridge across First Narrows was investigated as early as the 1890s, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that plans began to take shape. In December 1933, approval for the building of the bridge was reached through a city wide vote. Construction began on March 31, 1937 by clearing ten acres of Stanley Park to create the right-of-way. Upon completion in November 1938, the Lions Gate Bridge was recognized as the longest suspension bridge in the British Empire and one of the biggest construction projects undertaken in Canada during the 1930s. Despite its great size, the open steelwork of the twin towers gives the structure a weightless quality that blends well with its picturesque setting.
The bridge was remarkable because of its length and the technical innovations in cable use and construction. Alfred J.T. Taylor, a prominent engineering contractor and industrialist who had substantial land holdings on the North Shore and who assembled the financing for the project has been called the visionary behind the project. The Guinness brewing company acted as the primary financier, intent on providing access to its British Properties development in West Vancouver.
Named in honour of a pair of pointed peaks along the North Shore mountain range known as ‘The Lions’, the south entrance to the bridge is graced by two monumental Art Deco lion figures which were the last great public work of Vancouver’s foremost sculptor, Charles Marega.
The provincial government purchased it in 1955, its “Year of Bridges”. Other projects in the region included the Second Narrows and Oak Street bridges plus Highway 99 and the south arm crossing that became George Massey Tunnel. A third lane was squeezed onto Lions Gate Bridge to accommodate the increasing traffic volume. It ceased to be a toll bridge in 1963. Overcrowded for decades, the bridge narrowly avoided demolition in the 1990s, instead being refurbished by the provincial government. Its retention indicated the city was beginning to move beyond the automobile age.
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