Falls View Bridge (1938) Niagara Falls, Canada

On January 27th 1938, the Falls View Bridge, also known as the Honeymoon Bridge and the Upper Steel Arch Bridge, collapsed into the River Niagara, near the famous falls. At the time it was built - it opened to traffic in 1898 - it was the world’s longest such structure with a span of just over 256 metres and a total length of 377 metres. Designed by engineer L.L. Buck, it carried double tracks for electric trams and also accommodated carriages and pedestrians. The steel, arch bridge had a wooden deck and the abutments rose just a few feet above the level of the water.

The bridge had already undergone modifications. Shortly after its opening, in January of 1899, ice jams in the river engulfed the abutments and formed around the steel girders of the bridge. The International Traction Company, which owned the bridge at the time, built 7 metre high walls around the abutments, beginning more than a metre below the water level.

The bridge was also inclined to sway when heavily loaded or during times of high winds. On June 8th 1925, a large crowd gathered on the bridge fled in terror as the bridge entered a seemingly uncontrollable swing. They had gathered to watch the inaugural illumination of the Niagara Falls. Later the bridge was reinforced with lateral bracing to avoid such excessive movement.

On January 25th 1938 a fierce storm struck the Niagara area, causing large chunks of ice to float down river and accumulate in a massive ice jam around the bridge abutments. The bridge was closed to all traffic from 9.15 a.m. the next day as the advancing ice had already caused girders to snap and the bridge to improbably twist. The battle was between the power of ice blocks, over 30 metres deep, and the might of steel. Workmen were lowered down on ropes, braving the high winds, the bitter cold and the deafening groaning of the bridge. They battled through the night, shoring up the downstream side using massive wooden trusses.

Image of Falls View Bridge (1938)

Falls View Bridge, Niagara Falls, Canada

© Niagra Falls Tourism

Around 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Thursday, January 27th, engineers who inspected the base of the bridge, declared that they thought it saved. Ten minutes later, on the American side, the ice moved and the bridge lurched. There was a few moments of stillness and then, with a groan loud enough to drown out the roar of the falls themselves, the Falls View Bridge crashed to the ice below, its ignominious end clouded by the mist of snow and ice which rose up from the gorge. No one was killed, but thousands witnessed the collapse.

The skeletal remains of the bridge proved a boom for the area, as special trains, packed with tourists arrived from Canada and America to see the cut up sections lie in state on the ice. Eventually, with the warmth of the approaching spring, the ice jam had melted to water level by St. Patrick’s Day and the last piece of the bridge succumbed to its watery fate on April 12, 1938.

In 1941 a new bridge opened north of the site of the Falls View Bridge and was named, the Rainbow Bridge.