Canada – Victoria Bridge And St. Clair Tunnel

No history of the Grand Trunk Railway would be complete without special reference to those great engineering achievements the construction of the Victoria Bridge at Montreal, and the St. Clair Tunnel under the St. Clair river between Canada and the United States from Sarnia to Port Huron. In the year 1859 there were no means of crossing the great St. Lawrence River throughout its entire length, except by the unsatisfactory means of ferry boats in the summer time, and by sleighs in the winter. In certain periods of the year, owing to the moving ice, even these modes of crossing were impracticable, but the construction of the Victoria Bridge gave, for the first time, the people of Canada a means of crossing their great river in comfort at any time. The railway ran from Quebec to Longueuil on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and from Montreal on the opposite side of the river westward to Lake Ontario, and it was, therefore, absolutely necessary that a connection should be made between the two sections of the undertaking by means of a bridge at Montreal. The construction of the bridge presented enormous engineering difficulties, the contractors having to contend not only with a deep and fast-running stream nearly two miles in width, but also from vast floes of ice, often seven feet in thickness, and from fifteen to twenty square miles in extent. The first stone of the bridge was laid 22nd June, 1854, and it was not until the 24th November, 1859, that the first train passed over the bridge, and on the 25th August, 1860, the bridge was officially inaugurated, and the last rivet driven by the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward the Seventh. The bridge was tubular in construction, and the following particulars may be of interest :

Length of ironwork 6,592 feet Total length.. 9,144 feet Number of piers 24 Number of iron tubes 25 Width of centre spans 330 feet of centre spans 242 feet Thickness of centre piers at summer water leveL 28 feet Thickness of side piers at summer water level 18 feet Material of piers Limestone Quantity of masonry (piers and abutments) 100,000 cubic yds. Total weight of masonry 223,000 tons Height of tubes 181 to 22 ft. Width of tubes 16 feet Total weight of tubes 9,044 tons Height from water 60 feet Grade of tubes to centre 1 in 130 Cost of bridge $7,000,000

The engineers of the bridge were Messrs. A. M. Ross and Robert Stevenson, the builders were Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts, and the engineer in charge was Mr. James Hodges.

At the time of the completion of the bridge in 1860, it was considered the eighth wonder of the world, and was the admiration of all who looked upon it. In the course of time, the bridge, which was designed to carry only a single line of railway, became insufficient to meet the demands of the traffic, and it was necessary to replace the original tubes by an openwork steel bridge, with double lines of rails and carriage ways, and footwalks for pedestrians. It was found that the piers supporting the old bridge would, with very slight alterations, be sufficient to carry the new bridge, the construction of which was commenced in October, 1897, the name of the bridge being changed to the ” Victoria jubilee Bridge ” in honour of the Diamond jubilee of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, which took place in that year, and on December 13th, 1898, the double track across the bridge came into operation. The construction of the new bridge was again a marvellous feat of engineering, the new girders being built around the old tubes with very slight interference to the traffic during the operation. The total length of time the bridge was closed amounting to only twenty hours during the whole of the time occupied in the reconstruction. While the iron in the old bridge weighed 9,044 tons, the iron in the new structure weighs 22,000 tons. The width of the old bridge was 16 feet, while that of the new bridge is 66 feet 8 inches. The height of the superstructure of the old bridge was 16 feet, and that of the new bridge is 40 to 60 feet. The total cost of the reconstruction amounted to about 2,000,000 dollars.

The St. Clair Tunnel, which in many respects is the most remarkable in the world, is appropriately termed ” The link that binds two nations.” It is constructed under the St. Clair River from Sarnia, Ontario, to Port Huron, Michigan, and over it flow all the waters of the great Lakes, which eventually reach the Atlantic as the St. Lawrence River. The construction of the tunnel was commenced in November, 1888, and the work finished on the 30th August, 1890, but it was not open for traffic until the 19th September, 1891. The actual tunnel itself under the river is 6,026 feet in length, and the approaches 5,600 feet additional, or more than two miles in all. It is a continuous iron tube, about 20 feet in diameter, of solid cast-iron plates, which were bolted together in segments as the work of boring proceeded, and the total weight of the iron used aggregated 28,000 tons. The work was begun at both ends simultaneously and carried on until the two sections met in mid-river. Throughout its entire length it perforates a bed of blue clay. The borings were made by means of heavy wrought iron shields with sharp edges, fifteen feet three inches long, and 21 feet 6 inches in diameter, driven forward by hydraulic rams, and as fast as the clay was cut away a section of the iron wall of the tunnel was bolted to its fellow section. The permanent way through the tunnel is laid with steel rails weighing 100 lbs. to the lineal yard, which rest upon cross-ties only six inches apart, laid on stringers, which in turn rest upon a bed of brick and concrete filling the bottom of the tube. The cost of this great tunnel was 2,700,000 dollars, and the Canadian Government assisted the work by a subsidy of 375,000 dollars. Special locomotives having ten driving wheels, and weighing nearly 200,000 lbs., were built to haul the trains through the tunnel, and up the steep grade after emerging, but owing to the unsatisfactory ventilation of the tunnel it was decided in 1906 to substitute electricity for steam as the motive power for handling traffic through the tunnel, which system has proved a great success.