Jacques Cartier Bridge


In the early 1920s, progress was knocking at the city's doors. As early as 1917, more than 6,000 cars were rolling through the streets of Montreal. The port was still the second-largest in North America, despite being closed in winter. One particular project mobilized the city's energies: a plan for a highway bridge 3.4 km long linking the island of Montreal to Île Ronde and St. Helen's Island, and then crossing the river to Longueuil.

The Jacques Cartier Bridge was inaugurated on May 24, 1930, nearly five years to the day after ground was first broken. Initially called the Harbour Bridge, it was later officially named the Jacques Cartier Bridge after the French explorer who had discovered Canada 400 years earlier.

There was, however, a price to be paid for this project. Starting in 1926, a series of expropriations decimated the working-class neighbourhood of Ste. Marie. Construction was known to start in the backyards of homes that had been expropriated but not yet demolished. However, one property owner wouldn't budge. Hector Barsalou stubbornly refused to sell his soap factory at the price offered by the city and as a consequence, the bridge would have to follow a pronounced curve. It was soon known as “the crooked bridge.” On August 9, 1926, a cornerstone was laid in the bridge's pier at the corner of Notre Dame and St. Antoine streets. It held a time capsule containing 59 objects, including annual reports of the Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal, coins, aerial photographs of the port, plans of the cities of Montreal and Longueuil, and even a plan of the bridge. The memory of the capsule lives on, even though no one knows its exact location!

The bridge's inauguration on May 24, 1930 led to a situation that was almost futuristic for the time. Unable to travel, Prime Minister Mackenzie King gave his speech by telephone from Ottawa, then unveiled the commemorative plaque by pressing a remote-control button! The bridge was called the Harbour Bridge at the time. On September 1, 1934, it was renamed the Jacques Cartier Bridge to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Canada.

The southern section of the bridge was raised in 1957-1959, when a new Warren truss was built to span the Seaway. From the beginning, there had been a toll on the bridge, but it was abolished on June 1, 1962 to fulfil an election promise and in the wake of a scandal caused by the conviction of some toll collectors for pilfering the money.

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View of Jacques Cartier Bridge (in construction) and Mount Royal

© Courtesy of Bell Canada Historical Collection, © Héritage Montréal

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Jacques Cartier Bridge, toll station

© Archives du port de Montréal / Port of Montreal Archives, © Héritage Montréal

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Jacques Cartier Bridge, car at the polling station

© Archives du port de Montréal / Port of Montreal Archives, © Héritage Montréal

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Jacques Cartier Bridge, view of the deck

© Archives du port de Montréal / Port of Montreal Archives, © Héritage Montréal

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Jacques Cartier Bridge

13.9 cm x 8.9 cm
© Dinu Bumbaru, © Héritage Montréal

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Old Port of Montreal, view on the Bonsecour basin in winter with ice skaters
Carlos Pineda
© Direction des bibliothèques, Université de Montréal, © Héritage Montréal