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Plaque commemorates Ottawa’s largest workplace tragedy

The Heron Bridge plaque lists the names of the nine people who died in the building of the bridge.

It stands unceremoniously beside a bus stop on the west side of the Heron bridge, beside the rushing east-bound lanes. Although Heron road is a busy six-lane stretch, with thousands of commuters driving it every day, few take notice of the large pointed boulder that seems completely out-of-place. The area gets little to no foot traffic.

On the boulder is a fairly small metal plaque with nine names on it, which has become green and rusty with age. Upon discovering this, you realize the boulder has a purpose, and a somber one at that.

On Aug. 10, 1966, the construction of the Heron bridge was in its final stages when the unthinkable happened. At approximately 3:30 that afternoon the whole east side of the bridge’s span collapsed after  a slab from the western span fell on it. The bridge was about 3 meters away from being completed.

One person described the sound of the bridge collapsing as a jet flying really low. The sensation of being on the bridge was much worse. George Davis, a survivor of the disaster told the Ottawa Citizen several years later of his experience.

“It was like standing on a bucket and having it kicked out from under you,” he said.

When it was all over, seven people were dead, and over 50 people injured. Those that lost their lives were either crushed by tons of concrete, or suffocated on wet cement that eventually would harden. Two more people would die later in hospital from their injuries, making the number of dead a total of nine.

An inquiry found the company building the bridge responsible for the collapse, fining them only $5,000.

The monument was placed by the bridge to commemorate the incident, along with the lives lost. Like all monuments marking historic events, it was placed there to help us remember what happened on that sad day in our city’s history. But that is exactly what has happened, we have forgotten, or simply don’t know.

If you ask many Ottawa residents, especially younger generations, few would be able to recount the tragic history of the bridge. Some may cross that bridge on a daily basis without knowing the human cost of its construction.

Some may think I am being an alarmist, and believe that it’s no big deal. Some may ask why it is important.

It is important because the monument stands as a reminder that in the quest for human achievement, there is a cost associated with it. Whether it is building a bridge or going to the moon, there is a  human price for reaching that achievement, and we must recognize that.

Maybe this will come to mind next time you see that out-of-place boulder by the Heron bridge.

The day the bridge came tumbling down, Ottawa Citizen, August 5, 2006

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About Greg Markey

Greg is a social media and digital marketing consultant who loves writing about business, technology, innovation and startups. He holds a degree in political science and history from St. Francis Xavier University, as well as a diploma in Journalism from Algonquin College. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and three kids..

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