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This 2006 photo shows the main cantilever span of the Jacques Cartier Bridge (QC 134) from the intersection of Lorimier Avenue and Viger Avenue in Montreal. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)

RELIEVING CONGESTION ON THE VICTORIA BRIDGE: As early as 1874, officials in Montreal and surrounding communities petitioned for a new bridge across the St. Lawrence River to relieve congestion on the Victoria Bridge. Unlike the Victoria Bridge, which handled rail traffic exclusively at the time, the proposed span was to handle railroad, horse, carriage, and pedestrian traffic. One of the engineers who designed the Victoria Bridge, Charles Legge, even drew up preliminary plans for the bridge. This proposal ultimately proved the first among a series of failed bridge plans during the next 35 years.

Meanwhile, congestion continued to build on both sides of the St. Lawrence. Two ferries connecting Montreal and Longueuil provided some relief during the summer months, while an "ice bridge" provided access during the winter. However, none of these solutions provided adequate all-weather relief, and in the case of the "ice bridge," a safe crossing.

In 1921, the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and other civic organization revived the proposed Montreal-Longueuil Bridge. It took Wilfrid Laurier McDougald, who presided over the Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal, to persuade the Federal government to build the bridge as a Port of Montreal project. An Act of Parliament passed on July 19, 1924 granted the Harbour Commissioners (later the National Harbours Board) the power to finance and build the bridge. The Commissioners planned to finance construction and operations through tolls.

In November 1924, the Commissioners awarded the engineering contract to the "Montsarrat, Pratley and Strauss" joint venture, which comprised of Montsarrat and Pratley of Montreal, and J.B. Strauss of Chicago.

The Montreal half of the design team was led by Philip Louis Pratley, who went on to design the Champlain Bridge and other bridges across Canada, while Joseph B. Strauss, who led the other half of the design team, went on to design San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

The Dominion Bridge Company won the C$7 million contract to build the superstructure, while two construction companies - Quinlan, Robertson, and Janin; and Dufresne Construction - split the $1.1 million contract for the piers and approaches. Officials broke ground for the new "Montreal Harbour Bridge" on May 26, 1925, just four days after the first contract was awarded, and construction began at the Montreal and Longueuil job sites the following day.

THE CANTILEVER SPAN: Over the west channel of the St. Lawrence River, the bridge has a steel cantilever design with a main span measuring 331.4 meters (1,086 feet, 6 inches) long and side spans measuring 128.0 meters (420 feet) long. At its highest point over the St. Lawrence, the bridge provides 49.4 meters (162 feet) of vertical clearance.

The west pier, which was built on Montreal Island, is comprised of 17,584 cubic meters (23,000 cubic yards) of concrete and 100 tons of steel. Construction of the east pier was more difficult: since it was built in the riverbed just west of Ile Ste-Helene, an additional 2,886 cubic meters (3,775 cubic yards) of concrete were required to fill the pier dug 3.35 meters (11 feet) beneath the riverbed). The caisson used to dig the east pier was 39 meters (128 feet) wide, 15.8 meters (52 feet) deep, and weighed 1,030 tons.

Once the piers were built, the cantilever sections had to be built out from the piers one by one, and without the help of falsework and floating piers so as not to impede river traffic. Atop each of the main towers are two six-ton finials, or architectural ornaments, resembling the Eiffel Tower. Contrary to popular belief, France did not provide the finials; rather, they were included in the original plans.

This photo shows the dedication of the Jacques Cartier Bridge in 1930. The span was known as the "Montreal Harbor Bridge" until it was renamed after the French explorer in 1934. (Photo from the Bibliotheque Nationale de Quebec archives.)

THE CENTER PAVILION AT ILE STE.-HELENE: At the center of the bridge on Ile Ste.-Helene, there is a three-story building underneath the bridge (measuring 71.6 meters, or 235 feet in length) that is used today for maintenance operations. Part of the central support for the bridge, the pavilion was planned originally to be used as a casino, but it was turned into a reception hall after Roman Catholic Church officials opposed the casino. A helix-style access ramp was built as part of the original design from the south side of the bridge (at the pavilion) to the island.

SUPPORTING SPANS: The bridge's other spans are described as follows:

  • Connecting the cantilever span to the Montreal abutment are 16 spans supported by 13 steel towers and two concrete arches. The 594-meter (1,950-foot)-long section supported by the steel towers has trusses underneath the roadway deck.

  • From the main cantilever span east to the Ile Ste-Helene pavilion support, there are four through-truss spans measuring a total length of 256.5 meters (841.4 feet). The trusses were built beneath the roadway.

  • From the Ile Ste-Helene pavilion support to the St. Lawrence Seaway (east channel) crossing, there are nine through-truss spans measuring a total length of 673 meters (2,207.2 feet). As with the previous section, the trusses were built beneath the roadway.

  • Over the St. Lawrence Seaway, there is a Warren (above-deck) truss measuring 76 meters (249.5 feet) long. Originally providing 40 feet of vertical clearance, this span now has 120 feet of clearance.

  • From the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Longueuil abutment, there are nine through-truss spans measuring a total length of 442.2 meters (1,450.3 feet). The trusses were built beneath the roadway.

There are three curves on the length of the bridge. First, there is a 10.5-degree curve on Ile Ste.-Helene that was included in the design to keep the piers from being exposed to turbulence caused by the different currents along the St. Lawrence. Second, there is a curve just west of the cantilever span (called the "Craig Curve") to align the bridge with Montreal's north-south avenues. A final curve was added to the bridge near its western abutment because the owner of a soap factory on the corner of De Maisonneuve Boulevard and De Lorimier Avenue refused to sell the property for the bridge.

The last girder on the bridge was installed on July 10, 1929, and all other structural work was completed in December of that year, nearly one and one-half years ahead of schedule. Following a winter and spring of final preparations, the "Montreal Harbour Bridge" was opened to traffic on May 14, 1930. The cost of the bridge was C$20 million; approaches added C$3 million to the total cost of the project.

This 2006 photo shows the Warren truss span of the Jacques Cartier Bridge (QC 134) from Ile Ste-Helene. The truss span and its immediate approaches were raised in the late 1950's in advance of construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)

A NEW NAME TO HONOR A GREAT EXPLORER: On September 1, 1934, the Commissioners renamed the Montreal Harbour span officially in honor of Jacques Cartier on the 400th anniversary of the French explorer's discovery of Canada. At the re-dedication ceremony for the "Jacques Cartier Bridge," the Governor of France presented Canada with a bust of Jacques Cartier, which was placed at the current location of the westbound ramps to Ile Ste.-Helene. The bust was moved to a wall of the Ile Ste.-Helene pavilion in 1962.

BUILT FOR THE AUTOMOBILE AGE… When it opened to traffic in 1930, the bridge had three inner lanes reserved for vehicular traffic and two lanes reserved for streetcar traffic. There was a 40 km/h (25 MPH) speed limit on the bridge, and passing was prohibited.

The streetcar lanes were reserved for a continuation of Montreal's streetcar network across the St. Lawrence River, but these plans never came to fruition. The gradual ceasing of streetcar operations during the 1950's made the transit lanes obsolete: outer vehicular lanes were added to the westbound side in June 1956 and to the eastbound side in June 1959, the same year that all streetcar operations ended in Montreal.

In 1961, workers installed an electronic lane control on the five-lane bridge to provide for traffic flow flexibility in peak travel periods. During that year, workers built a second helix-style ramp from the north side of the bridge to provide additional access to Ile Ste.-Helene without the danger of cross traffic. The two ramps to Ile Ste.-Helene proved critical in the development of Expo '67: for 15 months in 1963 and 1964, thousands of dump trucks - about one dump truck per minute around the clock - filled out Ile Ste.-Helene and created Ile Notre Dame for the Expo '67 site.

During the 1960's, highway officials in Montreal and Quebec had more ambitious plans for the Jacques Cartier Bridge approaches. To the south and east, the province had plans to extend the bridge approach toward a new Wilfrid-Laurier Autoroute (proposed A-16) in Longueuil. To the north and west, officials planned to build a depressed Papineau Autoroute across Montreal Island toward Laval; the proposed six-lane A-19 extension was to have a similar design to the Decarie Autoroute (A-15). Construction of the new A-16 and extended A-19 to the bridge likely would have resulted in more severe congestion, possibly requiring the construction of either a twin span or a larger replacement span.

… AND LATER FOR THE SEAWAY: During the 1957 and 1958 construction seasons, workers jacked up the Warren truss over the east channel of the St. Lawrence River, as well as raised the profile of the bridge on either side of the Warren truss. The C$6.7 million project, which was awarded to Dominion Bridge Company under the supervision of consulting engineer Philip L. Pratley, raised the clearance underneath the Warren truss to 120 feet (from the previous 40 feet).

All the work was done without interruption of vehicular traffic thanks to the installation of two temporary "Bailey" bridges. The most dramatic part of the work came during a seven-hour period on October 20, 1957, when the old Warren truss was removed and a new one was rolled into place. A total of 30 jacks - each with a capacity ranging from 350 to 550 tons - were used to raise the bridge sections.

This photo from the early 2000's shows deck replacement work underway on the Jacques Cartier Bridge. (Photo by Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation.)

TOLL IRREGULARITIES EVENTUALLY LEAD TO THEIR REMOVAL: On September 8, 1959, the National Harbours Board completed the installation of electronic toll collection in order to ease congestion on the bridge. In the months following the conversion, officials noted an unusual spike in amount of toll revenue, leading them to believe that toll collectors pilfered collections over the years. This led to a February 1960 raid of former and then-current toll collectors at their homes. On June 1, 1962, less than three years after the toll collection machines were introduced, the National Harbours Board removed tolls from the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

In 1978, the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) assumed control of the Jacques Cartier Bridge from the former National Harbours Board.

REBUILDING THE SPAN FOR THE NEXT CENTURY OF USE: As the Jacques Cartier Bridge reached its 70th birthday in 2000, the JCCBI awarded a C$127 million contract to re-deck the 2.7-kilometer (1.7-mile) length of the bridge to Buckland and Taylor, an engineering firm with experience in deck replacement systems. The 1,680 prefabricated, pre-cast reinforced concrete deck units were assembled at a temporary plant near the Longueuil end of the bridge, and then shipped to the work site where they were installed during off-peak nighttime and weekend travel periods. On average, workers removed and replaced about six deck units per night. All of the deck units were post-tensioned to control water infiltration.

All of the work under the design-build contract (which expedited the work) was completed during the 2001 and 2002 construction seasons. Engineers kept at least two traffic lanes in operation during the overnight and weekend construction periods, and all five lanes open during peak travel periods. The two-year renovation project included the construction of a new bike path along the westbound lanes and a new pedestrian walkway along the eastbound lanes.

Now more than three-quarters of a century old, the Jacques Cartier Bridge carries approximately 95,000 vehicles per day (AADT) according to the JCCBI and Transport Quebec. In 2004, the JCCBI installed high fences along the pedestrian and bicycle walkways to reduce the incidence of suicide; prior to the installation of the fences, the bridge had been ranked second in North America (behind the Golden Gate Bridge) in the number of suicides each year.

This 2006 photo shows the Jacques Cartier Bridge heading west toward Montreal. Note that the center lane is kept clear during non-peak travel periods through the electronic lane control system. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)

A NEW "ZIPPER" BARRIER: A concrete "zipper" barrier should be used on the roadway to eliminate the incidence of head-on collisions. Similar barriers are used on New York's Tappan Zee Bridge (I-87 and I-287), Philadelphia's Betsy Ross (NJ 90) and Commodore Barry (US 322) bridges, and Boston's Southeast Expressway (I-93) to control traffic flows and provide flexible use of lane capacity while increasing safety.

PART OF A NEW A-16: The Jacques Cartier Bridge should become part of a new Autoroute 16 that would begin at an extended Ville Marie Autoroute (A-720), where new ramps would be built. Upon crossing the bridge into Longueuil, A-16 would extend along the existing autoroute sections of Taschereau Boulevard (QC 134) and Wilfrid-Laurier Boulevard (QC 116). Just east of A-30 (De L'Acier Autoroute), A-16 would depart from QC 116 and extend east on new right-of-way to QC 227 / QC 229 in St.-Jean-Baptiste.

Type of bridge:
Construction started:
Opened to traffic:
Length of main cantilever span:
Length of each side cantilever span:
Length of main steel superstructure:
Length, abutment to abutment:
Height of cantilever towers:
Width of roadway:
Number of traffic lanes:
Center clearance above mean high water (cantilever):
Center clearance above mean high water (truss):
Total structural steel used:
Total concrete used:
Foundation type:
Cost of original structure:

Cantilever and through-truss
May 26, 1925
May 14, 1930
331.4 meters (1,086 feet, 6 inches)
128.0 meters (420 feet)
590.5 meters (1,937 feet)
2,725 meters (9,272 feet)
104.9 meters (344 feet)
18.3 meters (60 feet)
5 lanes
49.4 meters (162 feet)
36.6 meters (120 feet)
33,267 tons
103,367 m3 (135,200 yd3)

SOURCES: "$20 Million Montreal Bridge Route for American Tourists," The New York Times (4/20/1930); "New Span in One Day," The New York Times (10/18/1957); "Philip Pratley, 73, A Bridge Designer," The New York Times (8/02/1958); "Boom in Highways Buoys Montreal As Suburbs Grow" by Charles J. Lazarus, The New York Times (1/14/1959); "Toll-Takers Raided," The New York Times (2/10/1960); "Montreal Already Looking to Its World's Fair" by Charles J. Lazarus, The New York Times (7/19/1964); "A Study of the Existing Montreal Expressway System" by Dominic Mignogna, McGill University (1969); "Transport Management Plan, Greater Montreal Area," Transport Quebec (2000); "On Your Side: Jacques Cartier Bridge Suicides," CFCF-TV (12/03/2003); "Jacques Cartier Bridge Re-decking Project," Transportation Association of Canada (2003); "NCHRP Synthesis 324: Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems To Limit Traffic Disruption During Construction," Transportation Research Board (2003); Federal Bridge Corporation; Federal Highway Administration; Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated; Transport Canada; Transport Quebec.

  • QC 134, A-16, and A-19 shields from Wikipedia.
  • Lightpost photos by Laura Siggia Anderson.




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