Montréal’s Eighth Wonder of the World

If you ever wondered what it is like to cross a bridge that was originally built for trains you must venture across the Victoria Bridge…and firmly hold onto your steering wheel!

The Victoria Bridge, which is considered by some to be the Eighth Wonder of the world, is located at the foot of Rue Bridge in Montréal.

This landmark was completed in the year 1859 and during its peak construction years six steamboats, 72 barges, 3040 men (of which there were several children between the ages of 8-12), 144 horses, and four locomotive engines were required to erect this Eighth Wonder of the world at a cost of $6,600,000.

It is also interesting to note that when the bridge was being built the workmen had discovered human remains of Irish immigrants to Canada who had fled Ireland in 1847-8. Unfortunately many of these immigrants had died of Typhus when they arrived in Canada.

Today when you approach the bridge you will see a stone with the following inscription: “To preserve from descration the remains of 6000 immigrants who died of ship fever A.D.1847-8 this stone is erected by the workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and
Betts employed in the construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D.1859.”
This stone has become known as “The Irish Stone.”

The building of the bridge is directly tied in with the Grand Trunk Railway which was incorporated in 1852 and was the main trunk line running through the United Province of Canada. It is to be noted that the Grand Trunk Railway become North America’s first international railroad.

Due to the fact that the port of Montréal was closed during the winter season, the Grand Trunk Railway wanted to have access to Portland, Maine which never closed. However, in order to reach Portland from Montréal it was absolutely necessary to cross the St. Lawrence River and this could only be accomplished if a bridge were built.

Prior to the building of the bridge it was impossible to cross the St. Lawrence during the long winter season as there would be a freeze up as well as a thawing in the fall and spring. During the summer the crossings of the river had to take place by boat and in winter it was accomplished by sleigh.

Although the bridge was completed within five years in December of 1859, the official inauguration was the summer of 1860, and what an inauguration!

Queen Victoria had been invited to attend the opening of the bridge, however, she declined the invitation and instead sent her eldest son Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to her throne. In fact, this was the first visit of a royal prince to a British colony to Canada.

To celebrate the prince’s visit to Montréal the city assembled six arches located at Jacques Cartier Square, Dalhousie Square (which would be located today near rue Notre Dame and Viger Square), Place D’Armes, Victoria Square, Rue Ste Catherine, rue Simpson, Blvd St Laurent, rue Wellington. McGill University students even erected an arch at the entrance of the college where you will now find the Roddick Gates.

There were also various other improvements made to several streets and buildings within the city.

The one improvement, which was most in the news, was “The Crystal Palace” which eventually was used for the Provincial Exhibition and was opened by the Prince of Wales as his first official function in Montréal.

The objective of “The Crystal Palace” was to display industrial and agricultural products from British North America during its initial exhibition and in future to be used as an exhibition site.

The design of this building was patterned after the Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition in London, England in 1851.

Unfortunately, “The Crystal Palace” never lived up to its full potential and it was very seldom used. In 1878 it was dismantled and moved to Fletcher’s Field, now known as Jeanne-Mance Park on Av du Parc, and due to a fire in 1896 was destroyed.

Apart from the engineering feats at the time of the inauguration, there were an abundance of social gatherings and balls. A temporary building was erected on Rue Ste Catherine between Peel and Drummond Streets, which was to hold ten thousand people. There was an admission fee of ten dollars for men and six dollars for women, which at the time was a great sum to pay. I guess the reason for this steep payment was to encourage only the upper classes to attend the ball. After all, the Prince of Wales was the honored guest!

It was reported in the newspapers at the time that six thousand people attended this major event. It was such a success that another ball was held two days later.

The Victoria Bridge did have a very wide impact on the City of Montréal and on Canada. Montréal merchants now had access to the Port of Portland, Maine from where they could export to Britain and the rest of the world. It does not take too much imagination to understand the full economic impact this would have on the economy of Montréal and Canada.

Montréal was now at the center of economic activities and as a result of the building of this bridge many merchants, financiers and business owners were able to accumulate vast fortunes. Montréal was never the same again!

In order to reach the bridge I would suggest you go south down Rue Peel until Rue Wellington and then make a right turn and proceed a few blocks until you reach Rue Bridge. When you reach Rue Bridge turn left and keep on driving until you reach the bridge, which will take you across the St Lawrence River into the South Shore municipality of St. Lambert.

Remember not to close your eyes when crossing the bridge as it is very narrow and scary!

The above article was originally published at Suite101.com.

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