Point Ellice Bridge Disaster: This Week in History

Point Ellice Bridge Disaster

Point Ellice Bridge Disaster: This Week in History

Melina Druga
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Example of an 1890s tram car
Example of an 1890s tram car

Many people celebrating Victoria Day “Plunged to Death,” the Victoria Daily Times said in a headline May 26, 1896.  A tram car carrying more than 100 people to witness a mock battle fell when the Point Ellice Bridge in Victoria, British Columbia collapsed.

People were eager to attend the event and cars were leaving their stop at Campbell’s corner filled with people.  People also were crowded onto the platform, and not long before the collapse conductors evicted the men and boys who were sitting on the tram car’s roof.

The first car made it safely across the bridge without incident.  The second car was halfway across when the sound of something snapping could be heard.  Within seconds, a 150-foot span of the bridge was falling to the gorge below.

The car struck the water and, because it was high tide, was quickly submerged.

A handful of buggies that were following the tram cars also plunged to the water.

The Victims and Survivors

The people crowded onto the platform were the most fortunate victims as they could easily escape, but some people were trapped inside the tram.

Nearby boats and carriages arrived to assist with recovery efforts.  Soon after the fire department and several doctors arrived.

The rescuers devised a method.  Once bodies were pulled from the water, they were taken to the medical personnel who tried resuscitation.   Those who were revived were given warm clothing.  Those were pulled from the water alive and conscious were sent home.

The majority of the passengers, however, were from out of town.  This made identification of the dead more complicated.

Children Among the Dead

As of the first edition of the newspaper, 56 bodies had been recovered.  Many other people had been injured.

“…a great number of bodies are known to be in the car,” the Times said.  “A number of bodies, including those of several children, were taken from the water, but at least accounts had not been identified.”

By four in the afternoon, all the bodies were recovered and were transported from the scene to city hall for identification.  After being recovered from the water, the bodies had been temporarily stored in a garden, lined up row by row.

Do you think the Point Ellice Bridge disaster victims knew what was happening or did it happen too quickly?  Leave a comment below.

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Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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