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Pattullo Bridge

Pattullo Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 25, 2014

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
King George Highway (BC-1A and BC-99A) Over Fraser River
New Westminster and Surrey: Greater Vancouver District, British Columbia: Canada
Structure Type
Metal Continuous (Arch and Suspended Deck) Rivet-Connected Warren Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal Rivet-Connected Warren Deck Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1937 By Builder/Contractor: Dominion Bridge Company of Montréal, Québec and Engineer/Design: William George Swan
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
438.0 Feet (133.5 Meters)
Structure Length
4,007.0 Feet (1221.3 Meters)
Roadway Width
40 Feet (12.19 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 30 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge's future is at risk!

Bridge Status: This iconic landmark heritage bridge is slated for demolition and replacement!

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Download An Archive of Materials Relating To The Replacement Project

About This Bridge

The Pattullo Bridge is an example of one of the more gracefully beautiful bridge types conceived, a steel trussed through arch. The main arch span is designed such that it smoothly transitions into the deck truss spans which provide an approach to the main span. The design is highly attractive because it compliments the smooth, graceful form of the arch with the intricate triangle-based art of the truss. The beauty of the bridge is further enhanced by the many built-up beams on the bridge containing v-lacing and lattice, which add a sense of geometric art and intricacy to the bridge, while also making the bridge look more delicate and less imposing on the landscape.

The bridge is historically and technologically significant as a relatively uncommon structure type, but most particularly as one of the largest and oldest bridges remaining in Greater Vancouver. It also has a high level of historic integrity with no major alterations to the arch or deck truss spans noted. The bridge was built from steel that was rolled in Canadian and British mills and fabricated in Vancouver.

The bridge sits next to a low-level railroad through truss swing bridge which was built in 1904. This 1904 railroad bridge also served highway traffic until the Pattullo bridge was built.

Courtesy of the Burnaby Village Museum, two surviving documents from the opening of this bridge survive and are available in PDF format: the Souvenir Programme  and the Luncheon Menu.

MemoryBC provided the following information about William George Swan (1885-1970), the designer of the bridge:

Engineer W.G. Swan played a significant role in the design and construction of bridges, railways and harbour works for more than six decades in British Columbia. He was born in Kincardine, Ontario and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1906. He joined Canadian [Northern] Railways as an engineer and came to British Columbia. After serving overseas during World War I, Swan returned to B.C. and established his own consulting firm. His firm was retained to work on the Pattullo Bridge and the Lion's Gate Bridge (1939). In 1945 Swan entered into partnership with H.A. Rhodes and Hiram Wooster.

Greater Vancouver: Can It Even Preserve One Heritage Bridge?

Greater Vancouver has a large number water-related features that require bridges, yet despite this fact it has far fewer bridges with heritage value than every other large city / metropolitan area in Canada. Even Toronto, which has relatively few rivers, has more heritage bridges. Instead, Vancouver has an unusually large number of modern bridges. For example, there are traditional mundane "slab of concrete" bridges of varying structure types that are generally regarded as eyesores. There are also an unusually large number of cable-stayed bridges in the area. Cable-stayed bridges will eventually become the most common type of large river crossing in the world since they are nearly exclusively the only type of bridge built today for large span crossings. Currently, cable-stayed bridges are sometimes marketed to the public as unique landmarks however this argument has little merit given the widespread construction of this bridge type. A city looking to its future would preserve its heritage bridges, recognizing that they will become rare and unique as time passes by. The Pattullo Bridge is owned by an agency called Translink, whose sole existence is to serve Metro Vancouver. This agency would do well to consider the value of this heritage bridge to the region. The Olympics will not be in Vancouver every year, and the preservation of bridges like the Pattullo will help keep the list of reasons for tourist dollars to flow into the region as long as possible.

As mentioned, Greater Vancouver has very few bridges of any heritage value. In fact, the city has so few bridges with any heritage value at all, that even some post-1950 bridges stand out as significant and interesting bridges, such as the Port Mann Bridge, built in 1964. Even the Port Mann Bridge is also slated for demolition and replacement with a cable-stayed bridge. It gets worse. The Lions Gate Bridge, which is one of the most famous bridges in the area and is also one of these few remaining heritage bridges, had its entire pony truss stiffening truss demolished and replaced with a deck truss stiffening that has no heritage value, is not the same design, and is so shallow that the deck thickness looks disproportionate to the bridge size. This irreversible and historically incorrect alteration to the Lionsgate Bridge has drastically reduced the value of the bridge as a heritage structure.

Given these facts, it is clear that the Pattullo Bridge is one of the most important heritage bridges in Greater Vancouver. Its graceful curved arch compliments the geometric beauty of the trusses in the bridge, representing a bridge that not only has heritage value but has a high level of aesthetic value. The Pattullo Bridge today retains excellent historic integrity, although one small approach span was replaced.

The Pattullo Bridge's main span is a steel trussed through arch, which is the same as the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia. The beauty and history of the Sydney Harbor Bridge is recognized by Sydney and indeed the bridge has become one of the most famous bridges in the world. The Hell Gate Bridge in New York City is another example of this bridge type. The cable-stayed bridges of greater Vancouver will never gain this notoriety, because they are too common of a structure type worldwide.

Preservation Solutions: A Future For Pattullo Bridge and Greater Vancouver

The Pattullo Bridge is bridge carrying four narrow lanes, and is considered functionally obsolete for this use. However, this does not mean the bridge cannot be preserved to serve a functional use. There are a two preservation solutions that seem to be most appropriate for the Pattullo Bridge. One solution is that a new bridge could be built to handle all vehicular traffic, and the Pattullo Bridge could be retained for non-motorized use only. The other solution is to pair the bridge with a second new bridge and have each bridge carry one direction of traffic. The Blue Water Bridge, an international bridge connecting Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan should serve as inspiration for Vancouver. Buckland and Taylor, an engineering firm who has done work in Vancouver, helped design pairing of the Blue Water Bridge with a second modern bridge. The Blue Water Bridge is a similar age as the Pattullo Bridge and there is no reason why the Pattullo Bridge cannot be given the new lease on life that the Blue Water Bridge received.

Why HistoricBridges.org Passed By Lion's Gate Bridge For This Bridge

Due to time constraints, only a short time was available during a 2014 trip to document bridges in this region. HistoricBridges.org passed by the Lion's Gate Bridge to visit this bridge for two reasons. One, the Pattullo Bridge is slated for demolition and might not be here in a future trip. Additionally, the Lion's Gate Bridge, was severely altered when the entire pony truss stiffening for the bridge was demolished and replaced with a solid girder stiffening. This enormous alteration not only caused the loss of a large portion of original bridge material, but also caused a fundamental change in the original design intent and visual appearance of that bridge. Despite its fame and notable significance when completed, its historic significance and integrity have been severely compromised by this alteration. In contrast, the Pattullo Bridge appears to be largely unaltered from its original design, which is quite notable for a busy bridge in a major metropolitan area. The Pattullo Bridge is a beautiful and pristine heritage bridge that should be preserved not destroyed.


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