Price Tags is celebrating all things related to the Burrard Bridge and its 21st century transformation. And here is a blast from the past. This gem posted by Vanologue is on  YouTube showing the amateur film made by Vancouverite Sid Groberman  in 1934 of the drive across the Burrard Bridge and a trip to English Bay. You will notice that people are walking across the bridge on both sides, and that there appears to be two lanes of traffic in each direction. And you can park on the bridge to take photos.

Both the downtown and Kitsilano sides of the bridge sport three storey houses, and there is a billboard on the Kitsilano side. The Burrard Bridge was opened on July 1 1932 by then Mayor Louis Taylor. The three million dollar bridge was designed by Sharp and Thompson both graduates of the Architectural Association in London. These two architects also designed the winning master plan for the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey Campus.
There is a lot of folk-lore about the “raised gallery” or apartments above the central piers of the bridge. They was never lived in, but according to documentation from The Vancouver Archives served to hide the steel infrastructure, and provide a formal gesture to the downtown.  G.L. Thornton Sharp of Sharp and Thompson stated. “Both central piers were designed and connected with an overhead gallery across the road. This helped to mask the network of steel in the truss from the two approaches, and has been treated as an entrance gateway to the city.”
Those two busts and the city crest that are on the piers were carved by sculptor Charles Marega, who also sculpted the two lions on the Lions Gate Bridge. The figures are of Captain George Vancouver and Captain Harry Burrard. By the way, Burrard never got close to his namesake bridge~he was on the sailing ship Europa with Vancouver in the West Indies.


  1. I’ve always been puzzled by the design of the Burrard Bridge. It has always seemed like an anachronism to me in the age of the automobile, having been built at the same time as the brilliant, elegant bridges of Robert Maillart in Europe (http://openbuildings.com/buildings/salginatobel-bridge-profile-11634) which were so expressive of movement. I suppose I’m supposed to like the Burrard Bridge out of loyalty to Sharp and Thompson’s successor company where I worked for a while, but I just can’t. To me it’s a kind of design amalgam best described by Ogden Nash as Neo-Babylonian.

    1. The Burrard Bridge towers and other decorative features are best described as Streamline Moderne. This style was very popular at the time and even extended to automobile design. It also frequently incorporated nautical motifs. In this instance these were both very suitable. The rounded concrete was also popular and frequently utilized to express some frugality which was typical in the depression period.
      Perhaps the designers also had to sate the desires of an Art Deco enthralled design approval panel at City Hall, similar to what they have to today.

        1. I’ve always loved that iteration of City Hall, though the size indicated seems more apropos to the seat of a senior government.

  2. Similar designs with towers, but these have a parabolic arch.
    Hell Gate Bridge, NYC opened in 1917
    The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England opened in 1928.
    The Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932.
    The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia derived their own designs from the Hell Gate Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, however, is about 60% larger than the Hell Gate Bridge.
    The Burrard Bridge is similar, with towers, but not a parabolic arch – just a truss.

  3. I like the simple approach to design.
    First, it must meet the functional needs that were identified during the design process and second, it must be adaptable. The Burrard bridge has served its residents faithfully for 85 years and with the recently completed re-configurations will serve the residents for many more decades to come. For me that is a successful project.
    I am excited to finally have a safe and pleasant daily trip across False Creek on the Burrard Bridge and also be able to take my 4 year old granddaughter biking across it a in safe environment.

  4. 1934 – When motordom reigned supreme?
    Motordom was just starting to warm up in 1934. We still had an extensive streetcar and interurban network. Motordom was almost at it’s peak in 1996 when the bike lane trial was cancelled after only one week due to pressure from motorists. I am glad that motordom is faltering a tiny bit in City of Vancouver, now that the northbound bike lane was built and the east sidewalk will be given back to pedestrians. And the bridge will be returned to it’s original 4 motor vehicle lanes. And all this with hardly any naysayers and general broad support – especially from the business community and the press. We’ve come a long way in the last 8 years.

        1. The BCER never ran over or under the bridge, though if you look underneath it was designed to accommodate a railway line. Instead it ran over an older trestle just to the east. I’m sure the odd bike went over the bridge in its early days, but with its three vehicular lanes in each direction its clear Vancouver designed this bridge with the increasing popularity of the motor car, a remarkable piece of foresight.

        2. Bob, have you read the article? The bridge was built with two motor vehicle lanes in each direction with a super wide shoulder on each side. The bridge could safely accommodate all modes. When motordom increased, the bridge was reconfigured to 3 narrow traffic lanes in each direction, forcing those on bikes to unsafely share the sidewalk with pedestrians. We are now back to the original layout but with the addition of separation of cycling from motor vehicle traffic, making the bridge even better and safer for all modes than in 1934.

        3. Just because a rail line didn’t run through the large arches that were designed for that purpose below the deck doesn’t mean it should not have been designed for it, or that trains should not have actually run through it.
          Kudos to the original designers for creating a multi-use structure that anticipated the future, even though they could never have predicted the near-absolute level that Autotopia would subsume society only a generation later.

        4. Come to think of it, it wasn’t just the Interurban they had in mind for the lower railway structure, but possibly a freight rail loop joining the industries that then occupied both the north and south shores of False Creek. A loop at the west end of the Creek would complement the rail split at the far east end near Clark Drive and where the planned Cut that would ultimately fill in half the Creek from its spoils.

  5. Alex – that sounds a bit like the Kitsilano trestle, the first victim of Expo 86 planning, regrettably.

  6. PS – that study shows drawings for the original design, which was an arch span (like Sydney Harbour Bridge), rather than a truss – which I think would have been more elegant. Still had the towers, etc.

      1. Guest, thanks for that link! I hope Don Luxton never retires.
        There are some very interesting former concepts recorded there, including a stadium and parade grounds on the south side of the bridge where Molsons is, and two city hall buildings framing Cambie as a gateway.

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