Monday, February 01, 2021 - 10:00 AM

Cantilever Bridge, Bowring Park

Cantilever Bridge Aerial View

Nestled in Bowring Park at the start of the Southbrook Trail is a landmark worthy of international attention, if not alone for its unique design but beautiful views but moreover for the team involved in its creation.

In May 2020, Council granted St. John’s Heritage Designation to the Cantilever Pedestrian Bridge; in July, the bridge received provincial designation as a heritage structure as well.

The bridge is a graceful concrete bridge which arches over the former railway track. It is cantilever style, meaning it is anchored on only one end while the other end hovers slightly above the ground with stairs extending outwards. The bridge creates a connection between the low terrain at the south of the park to the higher terrain within the original park and spans the Newfoundland T’Railway Provincial Park walking trail.

But the story and significance of its designers is as interesting as its design.

Bowring Park was established in 1914 by the Bowring Brothers and presented to the City in 1924. In 1958, as part of an extensive redevelopment and expansion, the City commissioned Montreal architecture firm van Ginkel Associates to work on a new development plan that included a swimming pool, boating pond, playground, tennis courts, pedestrian bridge and road bridge. As funding became available from the Canadian National Railway (CNR), the van Ginkels collaborated with United Kingdom firm Ove Arup to design and construct the pedestrian and road bridges to cross the railroad tracks running south of the original park.

At the time, the importance of both passive and active green space was being acknowledged and realized through the expansion of the park. 

One of the bridge’s architects, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel (b. 1923) is recognized for combining urban planning with her architectural skills, with a focus on modernist design using bold and unadorned elements. 

Lemco van Ginkel is considered to be a leading figure in modern architecture and a pioneer for women in the field. She was amongst the first women to graduate from McGill University’s School of Architecture, was the first woman to head a faculty of architecture in Canada, and her credits include planning Expo ‘67, the urban design of Midtown Manhattan, and spearheading the preservation of Old Montreal. In fact she and husband Sandy van Ginkel: “…are credited with saving Old Montreal, one of North America’s most successful heritage districts, by running an urban expressway under the neighborhood rather than following the original plan of building it at ground level and destroying its cobblestone streets. The success of that project led to the founding of urban planning as a profession in Canada, when she co-authored legislation for the first Quebec Provincial Planning Commission in 1963–67.” (https://pioneeringwomen.bwaf.org/blanche-lemco-van-ginkel/)

Structural engineer Sir Ove Nyquist Arup (1895-1988) is also internationally renowned. Born in England to Danish and Norwegian parents, Arup was one of the world’s foremost architectural structural engineers. He played a significant part in the design of the Mulberry temporary harbours developed to offload cargo on the beaches during the World War Two D-Day landings and was the design engineer for the Sydney Opera House in Australia. (https://www.arup.com/our-firm/ove-arup)

Although the Canadian National Railway shut down Newfoundland operations in 1988 and the railway tracks were removed, the Cantilever Pedestrian Bridge still spans the area, connecting the lower and higher elevations in Bowring Park. This architectural treasure of modern design will benefit from historic preservation and renovation in the upcoming year and will stand as a reminder of this exciting period in architectural history, as well as the leaders who influenced modern architecture and engineering.