Recognition of the Need for a New Bridge (1874)

In 1874, the Honourable John Young and a group of Montreal citizens were the first to recognize the need for a new railway and vehicle bridge to link Montreal and the South Shore. The bridge was to be located near the present site of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Plans were drawn up by Charles Legge, one of the engineers who had built the Victoria Bridge. However, the project was abandoned owing to a lack of money. Between 1897 and 1909, a number of other representations were made, but nothing ever came of them.

Demand for a New Bridge (1921)

In 1921, citizens’ committees, the Board of Trade, the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, the League for the Improvement of the City and several other organizations presented a report to the Honourable P.J.A. Cardin, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries. At the time, the Victoria Bridge was the only link between Montreal and the South Shore. Two ferries crossed the river at Longueuil in summer, while in winter, an ice bridge was built and automobiles risked the crossing during the few weeks of severe cold. The need for a new link between Montreal and the South Shore was becoming increasingly urgent.

Contest for the Site of the Future Bridge (August 14, 1922)

In the meantime, the Privy Council of the Dominion of Canada had granted the Commissioners $50,000 on August 14, 1922 to launch a contest for the site of the future bridge. Four projects were selected and the final location was chosen in the spring of 1924. Consulting engineering firms were invited to submit plans for the construction of the bridge. On November 19, 1924, the Commissioners announced that Montsarrat and Pratley of Montreal and J.B. Strauss of Chicago, operating under the name Montsarrat, Pratley & Strauss, had been appointed as consulting engineers for the project.

Port of Montreal Project (July 19, 1924)

It was the Honourable Wilfrid Laurier McDougald, President of The Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal (the “Commissioners”), who finally persuaded the federal government to build the bridge as a Port of Montreal project. It was decided that it would be operated as a toll bridge in order to pay back the capital raised through a bond issue. By an Act of Parliament passed on July 19, 1924 (Act 14-15, George V, Chapter 58), the Commissioners were empowered to finance, build and operate the project.

Choosing the Bridge Location (January 27, 1925)

On January 27, 1925, the site was announced and a few months later, the structural drawings were approved.

Ground-breaking Ceremony (May 26, 1925)

The ground-breaking ceremony took place on May 26, 1925. Work at the Longueuil job site began the following day, with work at the Montreal site starting soon after.

Laying of the Cornerstone (August 9, 1926)

On August 9, 1926, the cornerstone was laid; it forms part of pier 26 at the corner of Notre Dame and Craig (today St. Antoine) streets, across from the spot known as “the foot of the current” (Au Pied du Courant). No one today knows the exact location of the stone, which contains a time capsule with the following 59 objects:

  • Annual reports of The Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal for 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925.
  • The following newspapers, dated August 7, 1926:
  • The Montreal Gazette. The Montreal Star
  • The Montreal Herald. The Montreal Standard
  • La Presse. La Patrie
  • Le Devoir. Le Canada
  • The following 1925 currency:
  • 1-cent coin (large and small)
  • 5-cent coin (large and small)
  • 10-cent coin
  • 25-cent coin
  • 50-cent coin
  • $5 gold coin
  • New $1 and $2 bills
  • Three aerial photographs of the Port of Montreal.
  • Two Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal calendars for 1926 (French and English).
  • Two illustrated pamphlets put out by The Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal (French and English) in 1924.
  • Three plans of the Port of Montreal (in different sizes).
  • One plan of the City of Montreal.
  • One plan of the City of St. Lambert.
  • One plan of the City of Longueuil.
  • One plan of the Province of Quebec.
  • One geographic map of Canada.
  • Three geographic maps of the Montreal region.
  • One small drawing of the South Shore Bridge.
  • One copy of the notes for the speech made by Dr. Milton Hersey, Commissioner.
  • One summary of the events connected with the building of the South Shore Bridge.
  • One map of the Port of Montreal.
  • Three drawings of the South Shore Bridge.
  • One Annual Report of the City of Montreal, 1925.
  • Three volumes of Dr. Atherton’s History of Montreal.
  • One Annual Report of the Montreal Sailors’ Institute.
  • One Annual Report of the Catholic Sailors’ Club.
  • One History of the Catholic Sailors’ Club.
  • Acts of Parliament concerning The Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal.
  • One copy of the By-Law concerning The Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal.
  • One copy of L’Histoire de Montréal by Albert Leblond, Éditions Brumath.
  • One copy of Mémoires de la Société Historique de Montréal by M. Dollier, Éditions Casson, 1869.
  • One copy of Faits curieux de l’Histoire de Montréal by E.Z. Massicotte.

Bridge Opened to Traffic (May 14, 1930)

The three-lane bridge was opened to traffic on May 14, 1930. The maximum speed on the bridge at the time was 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). Everyone shared the roadway, with the exception of pedestrians, who had a sidewalk. Passing another vehicle travelling in the same direction was prohibited.

Official Inauguration (May 24, 1930)

The ceremony began with a speech by the Chairman of the Board of Harbour Commissioners of Montreal, Senator W.L. McDougald. Monseigneur Georges Gauthier, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal, was then invited to bless the bridge, and at 11:50 am, the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, gave his speech by telephone from his office in Ottawa and then pressed a button to unveil by remote control the commemorative plaque on the edge of the platform where the guests of honour were seated.

Official Name

During its construction, the structure was known as the “South Shore Bridge” or the “pont de la Rive-Sud” until the official opening on May 24, 1930. At its inauguration, the bridge was named the “Harbour Bridge” or “pont du Havre” since it was built under the auspices of the Commissioners. Some 4,000 members of the elite from across Canada attended the ceremony. A large crowd filled the pavilion and St. Helen’s Island as well.

The Jacques Cartier Bridge’s “Eiffel Towers”

The finials atop the Jacques Cartier Bridge’s main span are caps that most likely have no connection to the real Eiffel Tower. The popular misconception is that these four finials, which due to their appearance have earned them the nickname “the Eiffel Towers,” were a gift from France.

In fact, it is the bust of Jacques Cartier, located at the exit towards Saint Helen’s Island, that was a gift from France in 1934, the year the bridge was renamed Jacques Cartier to highlight the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Canada. Prior to 1934, the Jacques Cartier Bridge was named the Montreal Harbour Bridge (pont du Havre).

From the ground, it’s hard to imagine that each one is nearly five metres tall and weighs six tons.

Changing of the Official Name (September 1, 1934)

On June 23, 1934, the Commissioners acceded to public demand as expressed in a petition started by Georges Pelletier, editor of Le Devoir, and adopted a resolution recommending to His Excellency the Governor General in Council that the “Harbour Bridge” be renamed the “JACQUES CARTIER BRIDGE” in tribute to the explorer who discovered Canada in 1534. It was also a way to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Canada. On June 30, 1934, a Departmental Order, bearing the number P.C. 1358, approved the resolution.

For the occasion, the Government of France presented Canada with a bronze bust of the famed explorer and discoverer from St. Malo. On September 1, 1934, in a ceremony held right on the bridge itself, the name was officially changed and the bronze bust was unveiled. The bust was presented by Henry Bordeaux and accepted on behalf of Canada by the Minister of Marine, the Honourable Alfred Duranleau.

His Excellency Pierre-Étienne Flandin, France’s Minister of Public Works at the time, and later prime minister, attended the ceremony. Also present were representatives of the United States and Great Britain, high-ranking political and ecclesiastical dignitaries, including senators, legislative assembly members, parliamentary representatives, consuls, mayors, and leading citizens representing Montreal’s business, financial and industrial communities.

Opening of the Fourth Lane (June 1956)

Initially, the bridge had only three lanes, since there was a 12-foot (3.6 m) wide track on either side for streetcars, leaving 36 feet and 10 inches (11.2 m) of roadway for vehicles. The tracks were never used for the streetcars, so in June 1956, it was decided to open a fourth lane to traffic on the downstream side.

Opening of the Fifth Lane (June 1959)

The fifth lane was opened in June 1959.

Installation of an Automatic Toll System (September 8, 1959)

On September 8, 1959, toll collectors were replaced by an automatic toll system in an attempt to improve traffic movement and control of the money.

Toll Charges

The toll charges were as follows: pedestrian, 15 cents; cyclist, 15 cents; motorcyclist, 25 cents; automobile (for vehicle and driver), 25 cents and 15 cents per passenger; bus, 80 cents to $1.00 (depending on the category of bus); truck, 25 cents to $1.50 (depending on the category of truck); animal-drawn vehicle, 15-60 cents (depending on whether it was drawn by one, two, three or four animals, and whether or not it carried any passengers); oil tank pulled by two animals, 60 cents; vehicle pulled by a dog or goat, 15 cents; animals (alone or in herds), 3-15 cents per animal (depending on the species); wheelbarrow, 15 cents; free for children five and under.

Moving of the Bronze Bust and Commemorative Tablets (May 1962)

The bronze bust of Jacques Cartier and the plaques commemorating the official opening ceremony and the change in the bridge’s name were moved in May 1962 when the second access ramp to St. Helen’s Island was built. They are now located upstream of the bridge, on a wall of the St. Helen’s Island pavilion, just before the access ramp onto the island.

Abolition of the toll (June 1, 1962)

The toll was abolished on June 1, 1962 at 3 pm. The toll had been in place since the bridge opened in 1930. Since then, the toll collectors’ building has been used as the main office for Jacques Cartier and Champlain bridges maintenance personnel.

Montreal, July 5, 2006

To conclude the celebrations of the Jacques Cartier Bridges 75th anniversary and as part of the City of Montreal’s urban renewal program, The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) constructed a commemorative public square underneath the Jacques Cartier Bridge at the intersection of St Catherine and De Lorimier streets.

This project is a joint initiative of the JCCBI, the City of Montreal and Ville Marie borough. Its goal is to improve development in this sector in conjunction with the integrated urban renewal efforts for the Sainte-Marie district.

For JCCBI, the project consisted of developing a public space, including stonework, landscaping, commemorative works and architectural lighting of the adjacent stone bridge piers, to commemorate the bridges 75th anniversary and work toward the boroughs goal of making the area safer, more attractive and inviting.

A commemorative plaque, declaring the bridge a historical civil engineering site, was presented to JCCBI by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and has been permanently installed on site.

Most of the funding for the project came from JCCBI ($1.2 million), with additional funds from the City of Montreal ($139,700) and the Government of Quebec ($23,300).

The project began in the spring of 2005 with an archaeological dig and was completed in 2006.