Guest column: A throng of 300,000 on hand to open bridge’s second span

Nadine Wark

Nadine Wark

The second span of the Blue Water Bridge officially opened on July 13, 1997.

Unlike the chilly day in October of 1938 when the original span’s opening was celebrated, this day was such a ‘scorcher’ people were told to stay inside.

But this was history in the making, a once-in-a-lifetime event, so I talked my husband and sister into joining me for the historic bridge walk.

We were sensible enough to wear hats and bring water as we joined more than 100,000 Canadians and 200,000 Americans on the walk.

A task force had chosen engineer and design teams from Port Huron and Vancouver for the project. The Port Huron team, Modjeski & Masters, had also worked on the original bridge.

One remarkable feat about the second span is that 70,000 man hours of labour went into its building with without a single loss-time injury.

Dignitaries attending the opening included Prime Minister Jean Chretien; Ontario Premier Mike Harris, Michigan Governor John Engler; Point Edward Mayor Dick Kirkland and Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.

“The opening of the second span of the Blue Water Bridge helps lay a foundation for a diversified economy that will carry us through the next century,” Bradley said in his speech.

He also talked about building a business park, co-ordinating transportation and developing Highway 402 as a “super highway.”

All ages showed up, from infants in buggies and strollers to seniors on foot and in wheelchairs. Canadian and U.S. flags were unfurled at the mid-way point of the new span for the ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

What would a party be without music? The event showcased the 700-strong International Youth Choir, which performed the national anthems, and performers from the Lambton Youth Choir, Seaway Sounds and Bluewater Chordsmen.

Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and Colour Guards from both countries attended, and a Mountie in colourful uniform with two ‘Uncle Sams’ caught everyone’s attention.

At one point a roar filled the air as an F-18 U.S. jet flew overhead to the crowd’s delight. Local companies sold collectibles to commemorate the day, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, cards, plates, artwork, coins, 30-minute phone cards and videos.

The day ended with fireworks, and shortly after the original span was closed for repairs.

Coming back, as we neared the bottom of the bridge, we could see ambulances and heat-stricken people lying on blankets. My thoughts were, “Whew, we made it!”

Nadine Wark is a retired office administrator and freelance writer who resides in Sarnia