Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge
The Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge (formerly the Heron Road Bridge) is a bridge in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It connects Baseline Road and Heron Road passing over both the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal just south of Carleton University. The current bridge was finished in 1967, one year after a bridge collapse killed nine workers in the worst construction accident in both Ottawa and Ontario history. It was renamed in 2016 to commemorate the victims of that accident.
Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton initially opposed the plans of prime minister John Diefenbaker to build the bridge to ease east-west traffic in the city. In 1961, Diefenbaker's government threatened to reduce the amount of federal grants to Ottawa by the cost of the bridge if the city did not agree to build it. After further negotiations, an agreement on building the bridge was signed by the municipal, provincial, and federal governments in 1964.
The original construction plan included two three-lane, three hundred metre-long bridges, one eastbound and one westbound, and was budgeted at two and a half million dollars. The bridge was slightly north of Hog’s Back Falls and would connect Baseline Road and Heron Road over the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal for both motorists and pedestrians.
Collapse and rescue operations
On August 10, 1966, a shift of about seventy workers were almost finished pouring 2000 tons of concrete on the eastern side of the partially completed southern span of the bridge when it collapsed at 3:27 p.m. The wooden falsework on the bridge failed and workers on the bridge fell between fifteen and twenty metres to the ground, while rebars, cement, wood, concrete, and other building materials fell on them. The collapse triggered the nearby Dominion Observatory's seismometer, which prompted officials to issue a statement that the collapse had not been caused by an earthquake. Many workers panicked and ran or swam away from the site right after the collapse, while others ran to the site to help the victims. People picnicking in nearby Vincent Massey Park arrived on the scene to help shortly before emergency services did. Ottawa mayor Don Reid also came to the scene and joined in the rescue efforts with a pair of bolt cutters.
Most of the injured were taken to the Civic Hospital, which was in the middle of switching from day to night shifts, allowing many medical staff to stay and deal with the influx of patients or to travel to the site to provide aid such as administering morphine to trapped workers. The high number of patients forced the hospital to cancel all elective procedures and relocate patients in wings adjacent to the emergency room so the injured construction workers could be kept together. Because many of the injured were recently arrived Europeans who were not fluent in English, were not carrying their identification at the time of the accident, and were covered in concrete, many blood transfusions were done without having a patient name, contrary to standard operating procedure.
Over one third of the 183 workers were treated at the Civic Hospital, while the Ottawa General Hospital and the National Defence Medical Centre received just two patients each. The surgeon of the General Hospital criticized the focus on sending patients to the overwhelmed, but nearby Civic Hospital, when his hospital only received their first patient at 4:30 p.m. despite having its staff on standby in anticipation of a patient influx.
Rescue efforts ended at 3:30 a.m. when it became too dark to continue using required machinery. Nine men died as a result of the collapse: seven were killed on site, one died at the Civic Hospital, and another died from his injuries in September. Over sixty workers were injured, mostly from the falling wet cement that had just been poured on the bridge when it collapsed. Among the dead were Leonard Baird, the project's resident engineer, and Clarence Beattie, the site foreman; the other seven workers who died were Jean Paul Guerin, Omer Lamadeleine, Edmund Newton, Lucien Regimbald, Dominic Romano, Raymond Tremblay, and Joao Viegas. The accident remains the deadliest construction accident in both Ottawa and Ontario history.
Inquest and aftermath
A $100,000 inquest into the collapse heard testimony from over seventy witnesses and was completed in November. It blamed the use of green lumber, which was weaker than mature wood, and the lack of proper diagonal bracing on the wooden falsework supporting the concrete. The inquest found that the weight of concrete being placed to form the bridge deck exceeded the weight that the supports could hold, and that a second collapse was imminent as supports near the collapsed area showed signs of buckling. Oliver Gaffney, the owner and namesake of the construction firm building the bridge, accepted only partial responsibility for the falsework's design and construction, since the design and method of construction had been approved by M.M Dillon Co., a design consulting engineering firm. John Bromley, the project engineer at Dillon in charge of approving the falsework design, testified that the fault for not recognizing the fatal lack of diagonal bracing was his alone and said that "My mind must have been a bit confused at the time."
The inquest found that O.J. Gaffney Ltd. of Stratford, Ontario and M.M Dillon Co. were both responsible for the bridge collapse. O.J. Gaffney Ltd. was fined $5,000, the maximum allowed penalty under the existing Construction Safety Act. As a result of the findings, the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario suspended two of its members, including John Bromley, for one year and reprimanded a third. The recommendations of the inquest prompted a rewrite of the Construction Safety Act to increase workplace safety standards.
Families of those killed received monthly compensation cheques worth hundreds of dollars; one payout included $300 to cover the cost of a funeral, $75 per month for the widow, and $50 per month for each child still in school.
The bridge was rebuilt and opened to the public on June 29, 1967.
In November 1987 a plaque honouring the nine workers killed was placed just west of the bridge on Heron Road. In the same year, the Canadian Labour Congress built a monument to Canadians killed and injured at work within eyesight of the bridge.
From February 2011 to October 2012, Heron Road Bridge was closed because of a $15 million rehabilitation project – part of the city's Ottawa on the Move infrastructure plan – that improved its bearings, expansion joints, and pavement, among other changes.
In July 2016, after a campaign by the Ottawa and District Labour Council, the Ottawa City Council voted to rename the bridge the Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge to honour the victims of the collapse. A rededication ceremony was held at the aforementioned plaque on August 10, 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of the collapse, and included three workers who survived the collapse, mayor Jim Watson, the president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, as well as the relatives of the victims. A new plaque was unveiled at the event.
- "The day the bridge came tumbling down". The Ottawa Citizen. 6 August 2006. Archived from the original on 5 August 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- Deachman, Bruce (5 August 2016). "The Ottawa bridge collapse that shocked the world: 'They didn't have much time to scream'". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- McCracken, Erin (3 June 2016). "Heron Road Bridge renaming to commemorate workers killed in collapse". ottawacommunitynews.com. Metroland Media. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- Deachman, Bruce (5 August 2016). "The nine men killed in the Heron Road Bridge collapse". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- "Families remember Heron Road Bridge disaster". CBC News. 10 August 2006. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- Pearson, Matthew (10 May 2016). "Heron Road Bridge might be renamed for fallen workers". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- Fedi, Chloé (August 10, 2016). "'I'm going to die now': 50 years on, survivor recalls deadly bridge collapse". CBC News. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
- Deachman, Bruce (August 9, 2016). "Collapse recalled on eve of Heron Road bridge renaming". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
- "Workers' History Museum » Remembering the Heron Road Bridge Collapse". workershistorymuseum.ca. Workers' History Museum. 28 August 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- "Heron Road Bridge reopens". ottawa.ca. City of Ottawa. 13 October 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
- Deachman, Bruce (August 20, 2016). "'The workers won't be forgotten': Heron Road Bridge renamed in honour of fallen workers". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
- "Bridge renaming commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Heron Road Bridge collapse". Ottawa.ca. City of Ottawa. August 10, 2016. Retrieved August 12, 2016.