One of my first memorable glimpses of downtown Victoria was of the Johnson Street blue bridge. All I can assume from that was that my father chose to drive into the city from the other side so as to let my sister and I see the magic of city unfold before us. This was in 1973, we were teens moving from the north coast to a city that eventually became home, and for me, an island haven in later years. The blue bridge was not actually painted blue until 1979 yet everyone harbours memories of it always being blue! I have no recollection of it ever being given a good, solid new paint job in all the years I have lived in Victoria. (I did not move permanently to the city until 1983) I do however have a few snapshots of family and personal experiences in which the bridge did play a minor role. Yesterday was the last time to walk over the bridge, first time ever on the car lanes. That was how I started and ended my time with the bridge – heading from the other side toward the city centre.
The view from Pandora Avenue. A shift over from Johnson Street. With construction still in progress I am not sure how traffic from the Vic West will now funnel to Johnson – the most sensible route into town.
The other side is generally known as Vic West. For many years it was an area of light industry, the train tracks and the quickest route to the Esquimalt Naval Base. It was the route taken when I brought my second daughter home after she was born. (I do sometimes wonder if that recollection is not actually a figment of my imagination as it seems so out of the way from the hospital she was born at – I will keep it though). I lived on the other side, the Esquimalt side, for a couple of years. Even my parents lived there for a short time after they had sold everything, including their Fairfield home (on the proper side of thebridge) to travel for a year. My sister was married in Esquimalt, at beautiful Saxe Point Park before embarking on a ride, in an open top car to, where else, cross the blue bridge. The groom spotted the bridge operator in his little hut, made the well recognized ‘Toot, Toot’ gesture with the resulting bridgeman response of a hearty Toot Toot!
The bridge operator’s hut. The last operator, retired in the 1990’s died three weeks before the opening of the new bridge. My sister thinks he was most likely the operator who tooted the horn as her wedding car drove into town.
Yes, it was with a bit sadness we crossed over the steel grid car lanes – scary – on foot, with some traces of memories of, early on, a less than pleasant walks before the pleasant waterfront Westsong Walkway was built, then extended to meet the iconic bridge. However, growing cities, and their neighbouring urban towns (there are nine municipalities that are townships under the postal umbrella of Victoria – perhaps addressing a letter to Langford or Oak Bay would arrive with the postal code) tend to outgrow their infrastructure. Bridges are no exception. Old Blue as some Victorians seemed to be calling it, was already elderly by the time the 2009 decision to replace her was made.
A quick look at her history, as early as 1911 the B.C. provincial government saw a need for a permanent connection to the busy industrial areas of Victoria and Vic West that would allow for land and water traffic. However, despite talks between the province, the City of Victoria, E&N Railway and the Electric Streetcar Company to share the cost an agreement, unsurprisingly, was not made. It was 1920, after a referendum, that the city took on the financial load and massive task to build the middle the much needed raised (lifting) bridge. 27% over budget at $918,000 the bridge opened in 1924. It was time, at 94 years, to let her retire with a grand introduction of her replacement standing erect at her side, and a fond farewell, rather than tearing her down with little fanfare. The public was invited to attend, to share a picnic on the steel grid (I was happy to just walk across), memories and dreams of the future as we streamed across the new, sleek bridge.
There were two sections to the bridge, one for cars to pass, another for the train. The track section with its counterweight was removed earlier.
The differences brought to mind how much fashion has changed over nearly 100 years. The blue bridge was all girders, heavy cement – dinosaur head appearance – counterweights, and in 1979, painted blue. She was out of her element aesthetically and functionally. Cosmetic surgery and a slap of paint would only give her maybe another 30 – 40 years. Therefore, a staggering 105 million expense (original budget was pegged at $40 million)for a seismically sound, three lane, two bike lanes to last at least 100 years, remains difficult for voters to swallow, but the deed is done and I, for one, appreciate the aesthetics of the bridge. I also live in one of the outer municipalities so my taxes will not be affected.
It was nostalgia that brought us, and hundreds of others, to walk to the span that crosses from the gentrified city side to the gentrified other side. The new bridge, that does not meet with Johnson Street – perhaps waiting for a new name – not only spans the two areas, it unites them. The landscape is changing, as with so many cities, will continue to change, we can only hope the changes are as easy to accept as the new view of this bridge provides.
Speech from the Mayor of Victoria from the other side of this antique fire truck. We then watched, smattering of clapping, as the bridge was lowered.
The Janion, built in 1891, abandoned for 35 years prior to 2013, refurbished and extended into micro units sits adjacent to the bridges. I nearly bought the third floor recessed space that connects the old & new until I read there was no guarantee I would actually have a decent view from the straight on windows. Made it easier to travel without a mortgage!
Of course, my mini-adventures are not complete without walking too far for too long and having lunch. We had originally planned to choose our lunch at one of the four food trucks, having decided carrying our meal was not going to happen. Unfortunately none of the trucks served anything my daughter could eat, they all appeared to have menus heavy on the burger/bun/chips choices. although we would all have enjoyed the one coffee truck – Discovery Coffee serves very good coffee – we decided to check out, as suggested by Mayor Lisa Helps during the opening ceremony, to partake of one of the local businesses that had been so patient during the four years of construction. I had hoped to visit Cafe Mexico, closed in 2015 after a major fire and reopened in 2017. 2 – 1 decision against my vote means I will go another time. We finally ended up at Willie’s Cafe & Bakery, then still just a coffee shop and bakery when I last visited, and when we still had the train arriving in Victoria. (Last train was in 2011)
I was unaware this eatery had expanded to become a popular breakfast/lunch spot, of course it was quite busy with bridge attendees. We did not have long to wait to be seated – right next to a roaring fire in what was once solely an outdoor summer patio. None of us sat next to fire. If it had been turned down we might have felt a bit of a chill despite the space being now fully enclosed. Service was spotty. Menus were handed out, our server hovered to answer questions and give suggestions, and took our coffee orders. Which arrived fairly quickly – unlike our water. My meal choice could not be made, at least I was informed before the order was put in, so I finally settled on the soup of the day – sweet potato with bacon and a slice of sourdough toast. My daughter chose a salmon omelette, no feta and no toast – thinking it would be only slice I said to get it as my order might not be enough for me. My sister had a waffle with maple cream icing. Everything sounded yummy.
Everything was not yummy. We waited over a half hour for our meals, and my soup was luke warm. It took far too long for a server to come around for me to complain, have the offending soup taken away to be warmed up, and not offer any real apology. The toast was good, I ate far too much of it. My sister declared the maple syrup was fake – yuck! However, my daughter enjoyed her omelette, her aunt and I left only on piece of her toast behind. The coffee was good. Always had been, as had the bakery. Did the owners bite off more than they can chew? Doubtful, breakfast is s big business in Victoria. Too bad the bakery seems to have nearly been set aside. It is unlikely I will ever return, no need to with so many other places and no early train to catch.
After all that toast I was happy we had made the decision to walk to town and back, although I had slowed down by the time we headed back after wearing my knee brace for so long. By the time we said our goodbyes we had walked 12kms. I still had one more stop, renew my insurance. Along with everyone else taking advantage of the long weekend. Happy Easter!