Vancouver Feature: Ironworkers Plunge to their Deaths

The Second Narrows Bridge was intended to replace the nearby, accident prone bridge which had been hit countless times by ships. But on June 17, 1958, while still under construction, the new span suddenly seemed to inherit the curse of its forebearer.

On that June day, Norm Atkinson was at work high above Burrard Inlet on the 5th span of the state-of-the-art, cantilever Second Narrows Bridge. His job was to fasten the giant steel pieces together with bolts. He was perched atop the extreme end of the span, jutting out over the water. “Oh, my God,” he said, hearing what he thought were high-powered rifle shots. “The bolts and splices were just banging off like a high-powered gun,” he remembered. The span plummeted 50 m into the water below. Weighted by his tool belt, Atkinson plunged 20 metres below the surface, hitting bottom before cutting loose his belt and starting to rise.

Eighteen people died instantly, along with a commercial diver who died a couple days later when he drowned trying to recover a body.

The collapse, attributed in an inquest and royal commission to a faulty engineering calculation on a temporary support or “falsework” remains today the worst industrial accident in B.C. in the number of fatalities.

In 1994, the bridge was officially renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing to honour all workers who lost their lives during its construction.