For the anniversary of the Quebec Bridge Disaster, I transcribed some of the breaking news stories of the time from The Manitoba Free Press found in Newspaper Archive. The stories are compelling and paint a very good "word picture" of the scene of the catastrophe.
EIGHTY-FOUR KILLED IN COLLAPSE OF BRIDGE
Image 1 Caption: Quebec bridge section projecting from south shore which collapsed yesterday evening, killing eighty-four workmen who were engaged on the structure. The accident is one of the worst in the history of bridge-building on this continent and the whole city of Quebec has been plunged into grief over the frightful casualties.
Image 2 Caption: Section of the Steel Work Under Construction Showing Workmen Engaged In the Structural Department.
SOUTH SPAN FALLS INTO ST. LAWRENCE
Enormous Structure in Course of Erection Near Quebec Capital Crashes Down Without Warning, Crushing and Engulfing Almost One Hundred Workmen
CAUSE OF ACCIDENT A MYSTERY
Believed That Anchor Pier Gave Way—Scenes In Stricken Home-Towns Unequalled in History of Canada—Estimated Cost of Work Was $8,000,000
One of the worst catastrophes in the history of bridge construction on the American continent occurred last evening near the city of Quebec, when the great steel structure under construction across the St. Lawrence river collapsed, entailing the death of 84 men. It is impossible to definitely locate the cause of the accident at present, but it is believed that the anchor pier on the south side gave way, and the whole structure on that side crushed down into the river channel. Of the dead and missing 30 were Indians and nearly all the victims resided in the towns of St. Romauld and New Liverpool, at either end of the bridge.
The structure was to be completed at an estimated cost of $8,000,000, and the centre span of 1,800 feet was to be the longest, by 90 feet, of any bridge built to date. It was being constructed by the Quebec Bridge company, of which Hon. N. S. Parent is president. M. P. Davis, of Ottawa, was the contractor for the masonry and the Phoenix Bridge company, of Phoenixville, Pa. for the steelwork. The bridge was to have accommodated the National Transcontinental railway and many other lines. It (sic.) construction had been the dream of many since the days of Jacques Cartier. Its location was a few miles southwest of Quebec.
Image: Quebec Bridge truss just before collapse in 1907. Source: matdl.org.
Quebec, Aug. 29.--The great Quebec bridge collapsed this afternoon and now the vast mass of steel work lies a tangled wreck across the St. Lawrence channel while so far as can be estimated eighty-four men have lost their lives in the disaster. The bridge fell at exactly twenty-three minutes to six this evening just as many of the workmen were preparing to leave. It was however, so horribly effective in wiping out the lives of the men employed on it that very little is known as to how it happened and those who are left are so completely benumbed by the horror of the situation that they can do little to aid the situation.
It was the southern extension of the bridge which collapsed and this was rapidly nearing the zenith of the immense steel arch which was to span the river. For eight hundred feet from the shore the massive steel structure reared an arch with no supports but the piers from the shore and one pier erected in the river a hundred or two feet from the shore, while the outward extremity was 180 feet above the water.
Suddenly those on the northern shore saw the end of the half arch bend down a little and a moment later One Whole, enormous fabric began to break down. Slowly at first, then with a terrific crash, which was plainly heard in Quebec and which shook the whole country side so much that the inhabitants rushed out of their houses thinking that an earthquake had happened.
Only Eight Escaped.
At the time of the catastrophe it is estimated that there were ninety-two men working on the bridge. Of these, eight have been so far rescued alive, being picked up immediately after the disaster, by boats. Of the other eighty-four, sixteen have been so far recovered, all dead, and it is feared that all the rest, or most of them have been either drowned or crushed by the falling girders.
The horror of the situation is increased by the fact that there are a number of wounded men pinned in the wreckage near the shore. Their groans and shrieks can be plainly heard by the anxious crowds who are waiting at the water's edge, but nothing so far can be done to rescue them or relieve their sufferings in the slightest degree. There are no search lights available and by the feeble light of lanterns it is impossible to even locate the sufferers, so that for the present nothing whatever can be done but leave them to their fate.
Illustration showing condition of the structure prior to a failure on August 29, 1907. When completed in 1919, it became the longest cantilever, steel railway bridge in the world. Source: esemag.com.
The awful completeness of the catastrophe seems to have paralyzed the sensibilities of everybody near the place. There is scarcely a family in the village of St. Romauld and New Liverpool which has not been bereaved, while in some cases five and six men of a single family have been killed. Driving through the village, from almost every house is heard the sounds of lamentations of women. Most of the men are gathered around the approaches to the place where the bridge was, some aiding in the efforts to rescue those who are still alive, and others waiting around for news, or helping to dispose of the bodies of the dead as they are found. The disaster has produced an extraordinary effect in this city and is regarded as a national calamity.
A few minutes after the crash was heard a telephone message came from Sillery that the whole southern half of the bridge had fallen into the river. For a long time people refused to believe that such a thing was possible, and crowds gathered around the newspaper offices waiting for further news which did not come for over an hour. Then the original report was confirmed with the addition that practically every man working on the bridge at the time had been killed. It was known that there were about a hundred men at work on this part of the bridge and the tidings caused the most intense anxiety, which gradually grew to a despairing certainty that one of the most terrible disasters that had ever occurred in Canada had taken place.
The number of the dead is variously estimated at from sixty to ninety but the few left of the men who were working on the structure state that there were about ninety-two working on the bridge at the time, of whom but eight have been taken out alive, so that in all probability the list of dead will be about eighty-four.
Cause of Disaster Unknown.
Nothing is known of the cause of the disaster. There was nothing of an untoward nature reported that could give the slightest indication during the past few days that the huge structure was in a dangerous condition. It was built on such immense lines that it did not seem possible that it could break down. Whether it was caused by a defect in the materials or by an error in calculations of the architect is a mere matter of conjecture.
Image: The collapsed Quebec Bridge. Source: matdl.org.
The one certain fact is that where this afternoon there was almost half of a bridge that was to have been one of the engineering wonders of the world, with a small army of mechanics and workmen, there is nothing now but a mass of fantastically twister (sic.) iron and steel wreckage, and a terrible number of corpses floating down the river, or crushed in between the fallen girders. The bodies rescued so far are in a terrible state, crushed and broken until they can scarcely be recognized. Only one man was taken from the bridge alive and he was so frightfully injured he died in a few minutes.
Engineer's Thrilling Escape.
Work was going on and as usual, the men being employed in placing the immense girders in position. In this work a track had been laid on the bridge and an engine with freight cars and several heavy moving cranes were employed in getting the steel into position. The engine was seen to start out for the end of the bridge with a load of steel. As it approached the end, the first premonition of disaster was felt by the engine driver who felt his engine jerk. He at once shut off the steam, but the engine continued to move. The outward end of the structure sagged a little and a moment later collapsed.
This much has been gathered from the engineer, who has by marvellous (sic.) chance escaped the general destruction. He fell with his engine as the bridge gave way, but is not able to say how he escaped. He was picked up later by a boat and became unconscious, and when he recovered his senses knew little beyond the fact that he felt the bridge go and knew he was falling. When he returned to consciousness he was on shore. The rest of his crew were still in the river.
Pier Gave Way.
It was stated this evening by men working on the bridge that the trouble was caused by the anchor pier giving way under the tremendous strain. This is the concrete and masonry structure which takes the strain of weight on shore. There are others farther out which assist in the work, but it is stated that these are in good condition, although the bridge has fallen around them. M. P. Davis, of Ottawa, however, who was contractor for the anchor pier, states that this is still in good condition. There are only two choices, the engineer miscalculated the power of resistance of iron, steel and stone in preparing his plans and specifications, or the contractors did not secure perfect materials. This will be decided later when the government enquiry is held, which must inevitably start in a few days.
Several of the officers of the Phoenix Bridge Company, which was constructing the bridge, lost their lives. Among these were B. A. Yansell, general foreman, Mr. Burke, the chief engineer, who had walked out on to the bridge just before it collapsed, and two foremen, named John Worley and Jim Idaho. A very close escape was made by Ulric Barthe, secretary of the Quebec Bridge company and a party of friends from Montreal.
Mr. Barthe, who was one of the first
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EIGHTY-FOUR KILLED IN COLLAPSE OF BRIDGE
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to start the idea of building the bridge, had driven out to show the works to a party of friends this afternoon. They had scarcely driven off the structure and reached the road before the crash came, and before they could return to the edge of the river the whole structure was lying in ruins. A few moments later and they would have been killed with the rest.
A Lucky Dispute.
Amongst the employees who met their death were a number of skilled mechanics brought by the Phoenix Bridge company from Pennsylvania, as well as a number from this district. While most of the labor was furnished by French-Canadians from the neighborhood, and half a hundred indians from Caughnawhaga, near Montreal. Few of these escaped, except six of the indians, who had a dispute with their foreman this morning and quit at noon. The survivors state that some thirty indians were killed, while six who left the work were saved. Those were John Spleen, Loals Canadian, Thos. Monjour, Dominic McComber, Alex. Beautrals and John Morton. Several government tugs will leave for the scene of the disaster in the morning and preparations will be made for finding as many of the bodies as possible, while necessary arrangements will also be made to prepare for an examination which will allot the responsibility for the disaster.
In addition to the tremendous loss of life, it is estimated that property loss through the collapse of the section of the bridge will not be less than $2,000,000, but at the present time the figures with regard to this phrase of the questions are even more vague than those with regard to the death list.
HISTORY OF COLLAPSED BRIDGE
The following description of work on the Quebec bridge is taken from the Free Press of Feb. 9, 1907:
Image: The Quebec Bridge Disaster of 1907. Source: LevisUrbain.ca.
It was in 1900 that work was first begun on the Quebec bridge, but at the close of the building season last fall great progress had been made, promising the rapid completion of the whole work. This bridge, when completed will be the largest cantilever span in the world, taking the palm from the present holder, the Forth bridge, across the Firth of Forth, Scotland. It crosses the St. Lawrence river but a few miles above the old capitol city of Quebec, and is in sight from both Quebec and Levis.
This bridge project goes back into the early history of Canada. In 1535, when Jacques Cartier spent his first winter on the St Lawrence, and built the foundation for the colony of New France, he pitched his camp within a few hundred yards of where the north pier now stands. It was there that he began the work of opening up the Old Canada. The construction of the bridge marks the first step in the opening up of the New Canada, and of its industrial independence. For over fifty years the project of bridging the river at this point has been under discussion, and it has been more or less a live issue at every Dominion and provincial election since that time. The coming of an election was always heralded by the event of several survey parties in the field, laying down locations for the bridge in those sections which it was desirable to influence.
First Plans Submitted.
In 1852 Engineer Serrill submitted elaborate plans and a report for a suspension bridge with a 1,600 foot span. He recommended the present location. At different times numerous other locations and schemes for tunnels, large ferries, etc., were submitted. In 1884 the Quebec Bridge and Railway company was formed to build the bridge, but nothing was accomplished. In 1887 the Quebec Bridge company was formed, the principal shareholders being the McGroevys and H. J. Beemer.
Image: The Quebec bridge over the St Lawrence, which collapsed while in course of construction in 1907, original design. This bridge was designed to carry two lines of rails, a highway and electric railway on each side, all between the main trusses. Length between abutments 3240 ft.; channel span 1800 ft.; suspended span 675 ft.; shore spans 562&FRAC12; ft. Total weight of metal about 32,000 tons. Source: Chestofbooks.com.
This company, reorganized, is the one which is now building the bridge. One of the most recent cases in which the project was utilized as political capital was in 1896, when Sir Charles Tupper endeavored to influence the Quebec elections by the promise of the initiation of a fast line steamship service from Quebec. At that time opinion was about equally divided as to whether the fast line of the bridge was the greater necessity.
After the election of 1896 a campaign of enquiry was set on foot in Le Semaine Commerciale (of which Ulric Barthe, the present secretary of the Quebec Bridge company, was editor) in order to determine the wishes of the city and to gather information concerning bridge sites, etc. The bridge project was explained to the public in many leading editorials. In the fall of the same year the board of trade took the matter in hand. The board of directors decided upon the present site and appointed E. A. Hoare chief engineer. During the winter new capital was introduced and the company reorganized.
Progress at Last.
Mr. Parent was elected a director in March, 1897, and in the fall he became president. It was at this time that Mr. Barthe became secretary. It is generally believed that prior to this Mr. Parent had received assurances of support from both the Dominion and provincial governments, in the undertaking. Before any assistance was given, however, $200,000 of the capital was subscribed by the shareholders of the company, of which 25 percent, was paid up. In 1899 the federal government granted a subsidy of $1,000,000, one-third payable on the substructure and two-third payable on the superstructure. The city of Quebec gave $300,000, and the province of Quebec $250,000. This together with the $200,000 subscribed, gave a total of $1,750,000, it being intended to sell bonds for the remaining cost which was estimated at $4,000,000 for the bridge proper, without terminals.
After thorough investigation the
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HISTORY OF THE COLLAPSED BRIDGE
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chief engineer decided upon the following plan for the bridge:
Total length, 3,300 feet; length of the main span, 1,800 feet, which is 90 feet longer than any bridge built to date (the Forth bridge being a span of 1,710 feet); width, 68 feet; total height, 300 feet above high water, with a passageway underneath, 1,200 feet wide, above which the lowest part of the bridge is 150 feet above high water, giving sufficient clearance for the largest boat afloat. Accommodation is given for two railway tracks, two highways and two sidewalks. The contract for the superstructure was given to the Phoenix Bridge company, of Phoenixville, Pa., and that for the substructure to M. P. Davis of Ottawa. Mr. Davis started work in the fall of 1900, promising to complete same by November 1902. This he has accomplished.
Character of Bridge.
The bridge superstructure consists of two approach spans 220 feet long, one on each side of the river; two anchor arms 500 feet long, one on each side, and one central span 800 feet long. The substructure consists of two abutments, two anchor piers and two main piers. The abutments are founded on solid rock. The anchor piers are 90 feet by 30 feet by 70 feet high. As their name signifies these piers are not foundations in the ordinary sense of the word, notwithstanding pressure above them, but are anchors which impose weight to counteract the weight of the centre span. From the bottom of these anchor piers clusters of twenty eyebars, each ten inches by two and one-eighth, extend through the centre of the pier and are secured to the shore end of the anchor arm to receive the upward pressure exerted when the centre portion of the main span is inserted.
Image: Elevation drawings for the Quebec Bridge that collapsed in 1907. Source: civeng.carleton.ca.
The north anchor pier is on the rock, the south anchor pier is on very hard clay, but is beyond the reach of the water. The main piers are 150 feet by 49 feet on the bottom, and 133 feet by 35 feet on the top. The north main pier is 90 feet high; the south main pier is 110 feet high. At present these piers would seem to be only 30 feet high as the remainder is built below water level. They are carried down to their foundations by means of pneumatic caissons 149 feet by 50 feet by 25 feet, the maximum air pressure used being 35 lbs. to the square inch. Although foundations have been carried to a greater depth in other bridges, nowhere have they been sunk to such a depth in similar material. the bottom of the river is a mixture of boulders, clay and sand—about 80 per cent of the former. This all required to be drilled and broken by dynamite (to a small enough size to be taken up through the air lock) before being excavated, and the boulders around the cutting edge of the caisson, breaking in jagged points, penetrated the outer sheeting of the caisson when it was sinking. This increased the friction enormously and sinking was thereby considerably retarded.
Depth of Foundations.
On the south main pier it was also found necessary to cut 22 feet farther than was originally intended, until suitable rock foundation was found 50 feet below the bed of the river and 85 feet below high tide. Despite these unexpected difficulties the contractor for the substructure finished within his time limit—that is by November, 1902. The piers are built with a grey granite face, the material being obtained from a quarry on the Quebec and Lake St. John railway. The courses are larger than is usual, the lower ones being four feet, built of massive stones of fifteen tons in weight. The body of the piers is concrete, in which is imbedded granite backing. the general appearance of the piers is very imposing and substantial. It is reported that C. M. Hays, on the occasion of his visit of inspection, declared it was the finest masonry in America. At the present time the masonry is somewhat dwarfed by the superstructure.
Image Source: Sonicmemorial.org.
After the completion of the substructure, the Bridge company surveyed and obtained options on its terminal lines, and designs were prepared showing that Quebec offered unrivalled (sic.) possibilities for dock construction and extensions sufficient to handle, without congestion, the entire trade of Canada. These were no doubt considered by the government when it forced the Grand Trunk to make Quebec, instead of Portland, the terminal of the grand Trunk Pacific. Quebec, being the summer port, it was obvious that the bridge should be completed immediately to give an outlet to the winter traffic on its way to a winter port in the maritime provinces. The other railroads—the Quebec Central, the Intercolonial, the Grand Trunk Pacific, the Great Northern and the Quebec and Lake St. John—in the interests of which the bridge was being originally constructed, were also anxious for the early completion of and running privileges over the bridge and terminals.
In the fall of 1903, when the government determined on the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific and guaranteed its bonds, it also guaranteed the bonds of the Quebec Bridge company to the extent of $6,678,000, but only after the shareholders of the company had subscribed an additional $300,000. This money was not only to build the bridge, but also the expensive terminals necessary to connect it with the city and the present railroads. After this, arrangements were immediately made to obtain delivery of material for the superstructure and to rush it to completion, but it was not until the spring of 1905 that the erection of the shore anchor arms could be proceeded with.
Report of Engineers.
The chief engineer, in August, 1905, reported as follows:
“The total metal manufactured to date amounts to 24,500 tons, out of which 8,300 tons are delivered at yards near the bridge site and 2,500 tons of permanent steel erected. Previous to the erection of any part of the permanent structure for the south anchor arm, a massive temporary steel structure for supporting the erecting traveller and members of the bridge as placed in position, had to be constructed, together with an interior trestle very substantially built of southern pine timber principally used for railway tracks for delivery of material, and deck space for working purposes. These heavy structures were completed early this summer, together with the steel traveller and other plant all completely rigged with hoisting machinery, and equipped with the most complete electrical power and modern appliances, all of which will be used for the construction of the southern half of the bridge, to be afterwards removed for the same operation on the north side.
“On the south shore the bridges over the Chaudiere, St. Nicholas public road and the long temporary trestles required for construction trains and delivery of structural materials for the cantilever bridge have been completed, and considerable progress made towards the completion of the heavy embankments—with steam shovel and cars—between the Intercolonial railway and the bridge, and the heavy rock cuttings being finished early in the summer enabled the railway tracks (which were partly laid last year) to be continued to the bridge. Safety signals have been erected at the lumber railway crossing.
“On the north side work is in progress between the cantilever bridge and Point a Pizeau, consisting chiefly of earth and rock excavation, construction of bridges over public roads, culverts, etc., in addition to the delivery of track and other materials made last year.”
The most interesting feature of the bridge erection to the engineer is the operation of the gigantic traveller mentioned in the above report. This traveller, which is now erecting the steel work of the bridge, is 210 feet above the floor of the bridge, or over 360 feet from the water, and is rather an innovation in bridge erection. Before building, the Phoenix Bridge Co. erected in their shop a complete working model of the bridge in order to test the efficiency of the traveller. It runs on rails outside the extreme limits of the bridge so that it has command over every piece of metal which enters into construction. The motive power is entirely electrical, and its operation has been very successful. An idea of its size can be obtained, as over fifteen miles of rope are used in its operation. An interesting part of the erection will be the insertion of the central span of 576 feet.
What Was Accomplished.
At the close of the working season of 1906 considerable progress had been made in the steel work. The Phoenix Bridge company furnishes some necessary figures and photographs of this work, which show the condition of the structure. The cantilever arm of the south end is erected complete, five double panels (562 ft. 6 ins.) from the main pier. The extreme end of the arm is the point where the 675-ft. suspended span will begin. The season's work comprises the construction of seven double panels, or 762 ½ feet of bridge, including the very heavy members of the panels near the main pier.
The main part of the bridge is a pin-connected cantilever structure of pure type, 2,800 feet long, consisting of a central span 1,800 feet long (16 main panels at 112 ft. 6 ins.) and two anchor-arms each 500 feet long (5 main panels at 100 feet). The central span contains a suspended span 675 feet long (6 panels at 112 ft. 6 ins.), carried on the ends of cantilever arms each 562 ft. 6 ins. long. The main structure connects with the top of the bank on either side by means of a 210 ft. pin-connected simple span of deck type. The two trusses of the cantilever structure are 67 feet apart c. to c., or about 62 ½ feet clear. The depth of truss, between chord centres is 315 feet at the main piers, 97 feet at the lowest points, and 130 feet at the middle of the suspended span. The approach trusses, which are 35 feet deep, are spaced 23 feet apart.
Up to the first of September, 1906 the expenditure upon the substructure and superstructure amounted to $3,900,000, while $640,000 has been spent to date on the railway approaches. The balance of the $8,000,000 referred to as the cost of the enterprise and its approaches will certainly be exceeded before the bridge itself to the city of Quebec, which it has undertaken to do. The connection between the structure and the existing railway lines on the Quebec side of the river is now being rapidly proceeded with. That on the south shore has been completed for about a year, enabling the Phoenix Bridge company to ship the steel for the superstructure to the site of the bridge on that side of the river by Grand Trunk railway.
The capital shares of the Quebec Bridge company amount to $265,585.70, and it has received in subsidies the sums of a third of a million of dollars from the Dominion government, $250,000 from the province of Quebec, and $300,00 from the city of Quebec. From the federal parliament has also been obtained authority for a government guarantee of the capital and interest of three per cent debentures to the amount of $6,678,000, payable in fifty years.
The construction of the bridge at Quebec, which has been agitated and urged for the last half century, is mainly due to the persistent efforts of the Hon. S. N. Parent, president of the present bridge company, and ex-premier and ex-mayor of Quebec, with whom are associated as directors, Messrs. R. Audette, H. M. Price, Gospard Lemoine, Vesey Boswell, Hon. N. Garneau, J. B. Lailberte, N. Rioux, P. B. Dumoulin, Hon. John Sharples and Hugh A. Allan. Mr. E. A. Hoare, M.I.C.E., is consulting engineer; Mr. Ulric Barthe, secretary, and Mr. J. H. Paquet, treasurer.
KILLED, INJURED AND MISSING
Following is the official list of killed and injured:
Bup. Crolesu, Canadian.
Nap Lahache, Indian.
Louis Albany, Indian.
Louis D. Horne, Indian.
James Hardy, Canadian.
Angaus Diebe, Indian.
Wilfrid Prouix, Canadian.
Ang. Leaf, Indian.
Zepherin Lefrance, Canadian.
Phillip Hardy, Canadian.
G. A. Merith, American.
Frank Kirby, Indian.
Thos. B. Jocko, Indian.
The following Americans are missing--
B. A. Yensen, general foreman.
John L. Worley, assistant foreman.
A. H. Birks, civil engineer.
J. W. Anderson, assistant engineer.
P. C. Reynolds.
J. E. Johnson.
A. O. Smith.
R. F. Smith and
A. E. Brind.
Image: Depiction of load on bottom chord of the Quebec Bridge, from Scientific American, August 1907. Source: The Willa Cather Archive.
The Canadians missing are--
Jos. E. Boucher.
Image: Some workers who were building the Quebec Bridge, unaware of the catastrophe that was brewing. Source: LevisUrbain.ca.
The missing Indians are--
Thos. L. Deer.
L. M. Jocko.
J. C. Morriss.
J. C. Morriss.
Oscar Laberge, Canadian.
Eugene Lojeunesse, Canadian.
Joseph Lajounesse, Canadian.
D. B. Haley, Canadian.
Ang. Hall, American.
Alex, Beauvais, American.
Chas. Davis, Indian.
J. J. Nanto, American.
Thomas Montour, American.
Louis Higgins, Indian.
J. K. Martin, Indian.
Bridge Company Gives Out List of Dead, Missing and Injured.
WILL BE INVESTIGATION
Government Has Appointed Committee of Three to Report—Relatives Notified.
Quebec, Aug. 30.--The Phoenix Bridge company to-day gave out a full list of the dead, injured and missing since the collapse of the Quebec bridge yesterday evening. They figure out that there are sixty-one missing, fourteen found dead and eleven injured. It is practically conceded that all the missing must be dead but it is not thought that any of the injured will die. Many having only quite light hurts. Late this evening another body was taken from the wreck. It had been observed earlier in the afternoon but the water was high and the body was so pinned in between girders that it could not be moved, finally at low tide the body was taken out, it being found necessary to cut it in half to get it out.
Mr. Waltnite, who is in charge of matters for the company stated to-day that he felt that this list included all the victims of the catastrophe since the company kept a book with full details of each employee, of his nearest friends in case of accident.
As a result of this precaution the relatives of all the killed and injured have been notified. Although the search for the bodies was kept up assiduously by the remaining employees of the company up til last night, and to-day the work proved useless, save that the one body mentioned was found in the wreckage not far from the shore.
It is thought by the officials of the company that there will be great difficulty in securing the rest of the bodies, plus the probability is that most of them are entangled in the broken girders and cables, and as most of the men were working at the extreme end of the bridge they are thus pinned down in heavy wreckage under about 200 feet of water so that it will be a very difficult thing indeed to extricate them.
It was proposed this afternoon to use dynamite in an effort to bring the bodies to the surface, but this was abandoned until the arrival of a number of the officers of the Phoenix Bridge company from Pennsylvania, who will arrive to-morrow. These will include: John Stirling Deans, chief engineer of the company; M. A. W. Milligan, superintendent of construction and Z. Schlapp, the architect who devised the plans for the bridge.
It is expected that the Hon. S. N. Parent, president of the Quebec Bridge company, will also arrive here to-morrow and a special meeting of the company's directors will be held to consider the situation. In addition to this, word was received here to-day that the government had taken prompt action to secure a thorough investigation into the catastrophe and has appointed Messrs. M. J. Butler, deputy minister of railways and canals; Collingwood Schreiber, consulting engineer of the same department, and Mr. Holgate, consulting engineer, as a special committee to conduct the investigation. The date of their first meeting has not yet been announced, but it is expected that they will start their work without delay as the investigation is likely to prove a lengthy affair and the final verdict of the coroner's inquest will probably depend upon the committee's finding and report.
Cause of Accident Still a Mystery.
The estimates of the death and loss are vague. The former is now put at 76 and the latter at $3,000,000. The cause is also still shrouded in mystery. Mr. E. A. Hoare, C. E., chief engineer of the bridge company, was seen by your representative last night. He felt the situation keenly but is unable to offer any explanation of the disaster. It was too late and too dark to attempt any explanation last night, but Mr. Hoare was early on the scene to-day without discovering anything, however, that he was willing to communicate. He had been in telephonic communication almost all evening with his assistant engineer on the works and with Hon. Mr. Parent, president of the bridge company, in Ottawa. The latter, he said was as calm and businesslike as ever
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in discussing the affair, though naturally feeling much distressed. So carefully, Mr. Hoare said, had he seen all the work executed and watched that it was most difficult to see where the defect could have been. An inquest will open on Monday.
An Unparalleled Disaster.
The disaster which overtook the famous Quebec bridge last night is unparalleled in America. The bridge was the largest in the world exceeding even the celebrated bridge over the Forth, in Scotland. Many single piers of steel weighed hundreds of tons and the floor beams were thirty tons in weight each; $5,000,000 had already been expended on the work and further assistance will be asked from the federal government. Eighty million tons of steel were to be used in the construction and half of this was in place when the crash came.
England Expresses Regret.
London. Aug. 30—The papers generally express deepest sympathy with Canada in the Quebec disaster. A varied feeling is displayed on every hand. It is looked on as a calamity wherein the empire shares.
WILL BE INVESTIGATION
Blame for Collapse of Quebec Bridge Will Be Placed.
Ottawa, Aug. 30—The department of marine and fisheries was advised this morning by their agent in Quebec that the ship channel will in no way be interfered with by reason of the collapse of the Quebec bridge. The bridge fell into one hundred and forty feet of water on the south shore. It is not even necessary to place a buoy for the safety of navigation. M. J. Butler, deputy minister of railways, left for the scene of the disaster this afternoon. He was joined in Montreal by Henry Holgate, C.E., who has been appointed by the government to conduct an official investigation into the cause of the disaster.
Image: Remains after the southern span fell in 1907, killing 75 (courtesy NAC/PA-109498). Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia.
S. N. Parent, chairman of the National Transcontinental Railway company, leaves this afternoon for Quebec. Mr. Parent is of the opinion that the Phoenix company, which had the contract for the steel work, had been rushing the work a little too rapidly, and it may be that in pushing out the heavy car of steel which was on the bridge when it went down, some of the required rivets had not been properly fastened and this may have caused the collapse. However, this is a matter which will be definitely ascertained by the officials' enquiry. It is stated that there are indications that this part of the bridge was under a heavy strain as one of the heavy chain cables was twisted.
Mr. Parent says that the responsibility for the disaster rests on the Phoenix company, and that they will also have to meet all losses. He estimates the loss of money through the fallen steel and the work placed on it at about a million dollars. This may be increased by heavy damages to the relatives of those who lost their lives. In all, he estimates that the money lost will reach a million and a half. Others put the loss as high as two millions.
Mr. Parent is the president of the Quebec Bridge company which undertook the enterprise of having the Quebec bridge erected. M. P. Davis, of Ottawa, was the contractor for the masonry substructure, and the Phoenix Bridge company is the contractors for the steel superstructure.
Quebec, Aug. 30—The escape of some of the men on the Quebec bridge at the time of the collapse was little short of miraculous. Thomas Sewell was on the hugo traveller, which towered more than 200 feet over the floor of the bridge. From this height he fell, as well as the 150 feet from the floor of the bridge into the river below. Being up so high and the steel being so much heavier than himself, the latter struck the water first: Sewell, who is an expert swimmer, went down quite a distance and swallowed a good deal of water, but managed to get ashore some distance below the bridge site. He says that the bridge swayed a moment and then collapsed all at once.
Many of the Victims Drowned.
Some of those who viewed the disaster from the shore first noticed the lofty towers settling, but this was perhaps because of their greater prominence. In a second the entire mass went settling down with a rush and rattling clash rather than a roar, the noise of which was heard both at Sillery and New Liverpool. Boats immediately put out to the assistance of the dying men. Cries of anguish and shouts of pain were heard from some of the poor fellows going down to their death, many of whom were undoubtedly drowned, although some were crushed mercilessly to death between the tangle and mass of falling metal.
A Horrible Sight.
Sewell, whose escape has already been described, says that as he came to the surface, portions of human remains rose at the same time, to go down again, while the bodies of others were seen for a moment bleeding from mouth and ears.
Image: The Quebec Bridge, 5 August 1907, from the Royal Commission Quebec Bridge Inquiry Report (Ottowa: Dawson, 1908). Source: The Willa Cather Archive.
Jesse, the engine driver, whose locomotive and train with his fireman, Davis, went down into the St. Lawrence, managed to free himself from his cab, and was thus saved. He felt the shock as the bridge moved, shut off steam, but the train continued to run until it went down with the bridge. There was naturally a terrible upheaval of the water when it was struck by the falling bridge.
Steamer Had a Close Call.
The steamer Glenmount, Captain Muir, en route from Montreal to Sydney, was close to the bridge when it collapsed. Pilot David Perreault, who was piloting the steamer, said the vessel had just passed the bridge when there was a tremendous report. Then there was a great upheaval of the water in the river, some of it breaking over the stern of the vessel. For about ten minutes it was impossible to see anything in the direction of the bridge, owing to the spray and clouds of dust from the fallen structure. When Captain Muir saw what had occurred he ordered the steamer to be put about and went over as near as possible to the bridge piers. He then lowered his boats in the hope of picking up some of the unfortunate men who were carried down by the structure. Although the boats cruised around for some time, they did not pick anybody up. Perreault said the noise made by the falling bridge was really awe-inspiring.
FOUND FLAW IN SUPERSTRUCTURE
Chief Engineer For Bridge Company Gives Important Evidence at Inquest.
NOT CONSIDERED SERIOUS
Sent Inspector to New York, But Did Not Warn Employees of Danger.
Quebec, Sept. 4.--It became known to-day that Chief Engineer Hoare had presented a report at the meeting of the Quebec Bridge company showing a flaw had been discovered before the collapse of the bridge. The report as presented declared:
“On the evening of Aug. 27, Mr. McClure, the resident inspection engineer, came to see me with a sketch showing that the ribs in one of the lower chords of the west truss of the anchor arm showed an inward side deflection. The matter was reported the same day to the consulting engineer and the Phoenix Bridge company, but in order to avoid the delays and any misunderstanding that might arise from the transmission of messages, Mr. McClure left the next morning for New York and Phoenixville to discuss the question. Soon after these interviews took place the structure very suddenly collapsed. Whether the chord in question was the cause of the accident or not is at present undetermined. Personally I did not see any immediate danger. At the same time I considered the question of sufficient importance to send Mr. McClure to explain the situation to the consulting engineer and the Phoenix Bridge company. Before Mr. McClure left he satisfied me as to the pier levels and line of the main post, etc. A few days previously the levels were taken for deflection which agreed with the theoretical calculations showing that everything was working out as it should. If results had been otherwise the conclusions would have been that something was wrong.”
Did Not Think It Was Serious.
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At the opening of the inquest to-day, Engineer Hoare was questioned on the report. In reply to the coroner, Mr. Hoare said that he never thought the condition of that chord was serious enough to cause an accident to the bridge, but for the reason previously stated he thought it was of sufficient importance to necessitate McClure himself going to New York. The witness stated that since the accident he had not had time to make a thorough examination of the bridge, nor enough to come to a definite conclusion.
Mr. Hoare stated that a very precise inspection was made of the work. It progressed not only at the bridge where the construction was going on, but in Phoenixville as well where the material was prepared. They had noticed a deflection in other pieces of steel, but not so pronounced as this one, but never considered them of any moment as they always could be repaired. Asked by the coroner, he said that it might have happened in transportation. He could not say as to whether it had happened before or after the chord was put in place, but if before it was probable that it would have been noticed. It may have been damaged before it went into the bridge and it may have happened after, and until a thorough examination could be made he would not give an opinion.
Mr. McClure Called.
This concluded Mr. Hoare's evidence, and the next witness called was Mr. Norman McClure, the engineer who went to New York to consult Mr. Cooper. Mr. McClure said that Mr. Cooper did not make any recommendations or offer any suggestion to him at all, and did not tell him that they should not put any more load on the bridge. He did not give the witness any instructions to telegraph to Que-
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UNABLE TO FIND CAUSE OF COLLAPSE
Jury Investigating Quebec Bridge Disaster Returns Remarkable Verdict.
NERVOUS SHOCK HELPED
All Necessary Precautions Had Been Taken to Ensure Safety.
Quebec, Sept. 12—A remarkable verdict was returned by the jury investigating the Quebec bridge disaster. To-day they found that all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent the accident according to the evidence adduced and that the victims died of injuries and nervous shock.
It was 12:40 when the coroner's jury rendered their verdict through Mr. Delage, M. P. P., foreman, after fifty minutes deliberation. The verdict was as follows: “That the deceased (LaFrance) died from injuries and nervous shocks sustained in the collapse of the Quebec bridge. We have been unable to establish the real cause of the collapse, but we think it our duty to declare that according to the proof furnished during the inquest, all the necessary precautions were taken for the construction of the bridge without danger.”
Three more bodies of the victims of the bridge disaster were found this morning, one of them that of Joseph Binet of Montreal, by a woman who was out in a boat near the Grand Trunk station at South Quebec. The second was found near the bridge site and the third at St. Laurent Isle of Orleans.
Evidence of Workmen.
Something like a flash of electricity accompanied by a loud report, preceded the collapse of the Quebec bridge, as was sworn to-day in the inquiry, by a workman named Cuthbert. While walking towards the shore, as he was idle that day, he noticed something like a flash of smoke on the anchor arm, and something cracked on the top chord, about the centre of the anchor arm. He thought at first it was a flash of electricity and as soon as he saw it, the anchor arm seemed to rise towards the centre, and his involuntary remark was “there she goes.”
Joseph Lefebvre, who was also on the beach at the time also heard a loud noise, and, looking up, saw the bridge slowly sinking. The loud noise appeared to come from the anchor pier. Personally, he was not aware of any defects in the bridge, though he had heard there were some.
Bend in Cantilever.
Quebec, Sept. 12—The bridge commission to-day got down to investigation in earnest of the causes of the disaster. At the afternoon session, several survivors of the accident were examined and among the new features brought out was the allegation that another chord in the superstructure was bent. Eugene La Jeunnese, testified there was a bend in one of the cantilever arms of about two inches, but there was no break or crack. This is the first time any defect in this part of the structure was spoken of. In addition to the witnesses summoned, the commission will also go to New York to examine Theodore Cooper, the consulting engineer.
BRIDGE COLLAPSE DUE TO ENGINEERS
Errors in Judgment on Part of P. L. Szlapka and T. Cooper.
Officials on the Quebec Structure Should Have Known—Bracing Would Have Been Futile.
Ottawa, March 9.--That the Quebec bridge disaster was the result of errors in judgment on the part of P. L. Szlapka, designing engineer of the Phoenix Bridge company, and Theodore Cooper, consulting engineer of the Quebec Bridge and Railway company, is in brief the finding of the commissioners who investigated the disaster.
Image: The Quebec Bridge as designed, from Scientific American, August 1907. Source: The Willa Cather Archive.
Their report attributes the collapse to the failure of the lower chords in the anchor arm near the main pier, due to a defective design. The stresses which caused failure were not due to abnormal weather conditions or accident, but such as might be expected in the regular course of erection.
The design of the chords that failed was made by Szlapka and approved by Cooper.
The commissioners' report says: “The failure cannot be attributed directly to any cause other than errors in judgment on the part of these engineers. These errors of judgment cannot be attributed either to lack of common professional knowledge, to neglect of duty, or to a desire to economize.
Insufficient for Task.
“The ability of the two engineers was tried in one of the most difficult professional problems of the day, and proved to be insufficient for the task. We do not consider that the specifications for the work were satisfactory or sufficient, unit stresses in particular being higher than any established by past practice. The specifications were accepted without protest by all interested. A grave error was made in assuming the dead load for calculations at too low a value, and not afterwards revising the assumption. This error was of sufficient magnitude to have required condemnation of the bridge, even if the details of the lower chords had been of sufficient strength, because if the bridge had been completed as designed, actual stresses would have been considerably greater than those permitted by the specifications. This erroneous assumption was made by Mr. Szlapka and accepted by Mr. Cooper, and tended to hasten the disaster.
Might Have Saved Lives.
“We do not believe that the fall of the bridge could have been prevented by any action that might have been taken after August 27, 1907. Any effort to brace or take down the structure would have been impracticable owing to the manifest risk of human life involved. The loss of life on August 29, 1907, might have been prevented by the exercise of better judgement on the part of those in responsible charge of the work for the Quebec Bridge and Railway company and the Phoenix Bridge company.
“The commissioners further find that the failure of the Quebec Bridge company to appoint an experienced bridge engineer, as chief engineer, was a mistake, the result being loose and inefficient supervision of the work. The steel used was of good quality, but serious defects were found, and fundamental errors in the design.”
Confidence in Cooper.
Image: Theodore Cooper around the time of his 1858 graduation in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Source: The Bridge at Quebec, by William D. Middleton.
The report concludes as follows: “The professional record of Mr. Cooper was such that his selection for the authoritative position that he occupies was warranted, and the complete confidence that was placed in his judgment by the officials of the Dominion government, Quebec Bridge and Railway company and Phoenix Bridge company was deserved.” The commission which conducted the investigation was composed of Henry Holgate, Montreal; C. E. E. Kerry, Montreal, both prominent practical engineers, and Prof. Galbraith, of the School of Practical Science, Toronto.
Not Enough Funds Allowed.
In its report on the effect of financial limitation upon the design of the bridge the commission state that “it must have been clear to the engineers from the first that financial conditions were such that nothing but absolutely necessary work could be undertaken. The effect of lack of funds is noticeable in the methods of calling for tenders and of letting contracts and in the delays that occurred in the execution of the work. We consider that the procedure adopted in calling for tenders was not satisfactory in view of the magnitude of the work and was not calculated to produce the most efficient results.”
Referring to events which occurred immediately prior to the collapse and particularly to the discovery of a deflection in one of the main chords of the structure, the commissioners say: “Mr. Hoare was the only senior engineer who was able to reach the structure between August 27 and 29. He was fully advised of the facts, yet did not order Mr. Yenner to discontinue erection, which he had power to do. We consider that he was in a much better position to fully realize the events which had occurred and his failure to take action must be attributed to indecision and to the habit of relying on Mr. Cooper for instructions.”
Able Man on Site Needed.
The whole incident pointed to the “need of a competent engineer in responsible charge at the site. We are satisfied that none connected with the work was expecting an immediate disaster and we believe that in the case of Mr. Cooper his opinion was justified. He understood that the erection was not proceeding and without additional load the bridge might have held out for days. Our tests have satisfied us that no temporary bracing such as was proposed by Mr. Cooper could have long arrested the disaster.
“Struts might have kept the chords from bending, but failure from buckling and rivet shear would have soon occurred.”
For further reading, matdl.org, has a very good in-depth failure case analysis.
View a great video about the Disaster on Factual TV.