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Richmond, B.C., June 17, 2008—On June 17, 1958, 79 workers plunged 175 feet into the Burrard Inlet when one of the spans being constructed for the new Second Narrows Bridge collapsed.
Eighteen workers died instantly or shortly thereafter, and a diver searching for bodies died two days later bringing the total to nineteen — the largest number of worker fatalities in one industrial incident in the history of British Columbia.
Today, 50 years later, the Ironworkers and WorkSafeBC have partnered to honour the memory of those workers in a ceremony.
“Each year, we pay tribute to those workers who lost their lives putting up the bridge, as well as those who survived the collapse,” says Cecil Damery, president and business agent of Ironworkers Local 97. “This year being the 50th anniversary, we have people coming from across Canada, the U.S., and the world to attend the commemorative ceremony at 1 p.m. at a memorial site by the bridge.”
In 1994, the bridge was officially renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing to honour all workers who lost their lives during its construction. In all, 23 workers died over the course of the bridge construction project, which began in November 1957 and ended with the official opening in August 1960.
“Those workers had people waiting for them to come home at the end of the day, and the reality is, after 50 years, generations of families have been affected by the loss of life in this tragedy,” says Dave Anderson, WorkSafeBC’s president and CEO. “We remember those people today, and acknowledge that one workplace injury or death is too many, and safety needs to be job-one on every worksite, every day.”
Lou Lessard, an ironworker who survived the bridge collapse, remembers: “One minute I was supervising a crane lifting a 55-ton steel beam. Then, without warning, the bridge dropped beneath our feet. My fall into the water cost me a broken leg and arm, a damaged vertebrae in my back, and almost a year in the hospital, but I survived.”
Since 1958, there have been many tributes to the fallen workers. In 1972, musician Stompin’ Tom Connors composed The Bridge Came Tumbling Down. John Higgins, an injured worker, will perform the song as part of this year’s commemorative ceremony. Gary Geddes’ 2007 book of poetry, Falsework, is based on the collapse of the bridge; he will read two of the poems. And Jimmy Dean’s 1962 ballad Steel Men reflects the bridge disaster.
Ironworkers Local 97 represents over 1,700 men and women engaged in the ironworking industry in B.C. Its goals are to organize the industry to raise the standard of living of all ironworkers; foster and promote safe jobsite work environments through safety training and programs; and provide important information regarding political issues to better allow members to make informed choices.
WorkSafeBC is an independent provincial statutory agency governed by a Board of Directors serving nearly 2.3 million workers and about 197,000 employers. WorkSafeBC was born out of a compromise between B.C.’s workers and employers in 1917, where workers gave up the right to sue their employers and fellow workers for injuries on the job in return for a no-fault insurance program fully paid for by employers. The organization is committed to safe and healthy workplaces and providing return-to-work rehabilitation and legislated compensation benefits to workers injured as a result of their employment.
For more information, contact:
Ironworkers Local 97
604 709-3006 or 604 314-9125 (cell)