Browsing the second floor of the Chapters on Granville and Broadway one winter evening, trying out the SnapTell consumer product image recognition iPhone app, I happened upon Tragedy at Second Narrows: The Story of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge by Eric Jamieson. Having seen it at another branch of the Canadian bookstore conglomerate, and not content to buy a hardcover, I reserved the book at the library then and there. A few weeks later, it arrived. Books borrowed from the local book repository must be more urgently read than those borrowed from friends, so I set about its 300 pages of Jamieson's history of the Burrard Inlet's second crossing.
The book details the political machinations to sell the idea of the bridge, fund it, select the company to build the bridge, its initial construction and what led to its collapse while only half-built. After explaining the engineering mistakes and subsequent errors that led to 18 deaths of ironworkers, painters, and later, a diver, Jamieson examines the royal commission to investigate the collapse and the ironworkers strike and legal wranglings resulting from that strike. Some details, he concedes, he can only leave to mystery, such as who made a crucial correction to one of the calculation sheets and when.
Books like these I can really dig into. It relates to a subject about which I know very little at the outset, in this case, bridge building, and the author takes the time to detail the context in which a singular event happened. The stories of all involved, from decision-makers to the planners to the engineers to the ironworkers to the rescue teams to the judges and lawyers and union officials, all serve to bundle the entire narrative of why Vancouver landmark fell down. Jamieson never condescends the non-engineers by explaining the physics involved thoroughly yet rewards those who have a technical background by teaching the lessons future generations can learn. Every chapter contains several photos of the bridge and participants in the story of its making and destruction and rebuilding. Especially compelling are the photos of the rescue and recovery operation, which show the massive scale of the destruction and the urgency to find survivors.
I can't recommend this book enough to fans of Vancouver and its history. The Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge figures daily in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Lower Mainlanders who need to cross the Burrard Inlet in their travel mode of choice. Jamieson has done the city and the bridge's builders a great service in recounting a terrible day for British Columbia in its then-unprecedented period of construction growth.