Skip to content

5 things you (probably) didn't know about the Lions Gate Bridge

If you know anything about Vancouver you know it's where the Lions Gate Bridge is.
Clockwise from left: Lions Gate Bridge under construction in 1938, the bridge lit up in 1986, and the model of the bridge in a parade in 1936.

The Lions Gate Bridge is one of Vancouver's most famous landmarks.

Built in the mid-1930s, it was first used in November of 1938, but wasn't officially opened until May 29, 1939 when King George VI was on hand, along with his wife Queen Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II's mother).

Since then it's not only become one of the most famous sights in the city, but an essential piece of infrastructure. As such, there have been discussions to replace it, but the powers that be never went through with it. In 2005 it was named a national historic site.

This bridge has a lot of history tied to it, but here are five things you might not yet know about it.

1. To bolster support for the project a model was made and trucked around the city

While a bridge had been mused over since the 1890s, it wasn't until the 1920s that things started to move forward. Except they immediately stalled when a plan to build a bridge was put to a plebiscite.

Which it failed.

In 1933 the plan was ready to pitch again, and to go with it a big fancy model was built to show people what it would look like. It was even taken to parades.

2.  A. J. T. Taylor's baby shoes are in one of the Lions

Taylor's name doesn't carry much weight now, but he was the man with the plan to build a bridge. And when he was finally successful (with a little help from the Guinness family) he decided to add a personal touch.

As they were being assembled, he was able to sneak a few things inside, including his baby shoes. Since those lions are the original lions, Taylor's baby shoes still sit there.

3. When it was first built there was a toll

Toll bridges have been around since someone realized people would pay to get across them. So a very long time, and the Lions Gate Bridge was initially no different. It was primarily financed by the Guinness family, and they put a toll booth on it to fund their venture.

At first, it was $0.25 for a vehicle (including horse and carriages) and $0.05 for pedestrians. That might not sound like much today, but taking into account inflation, a nickel was worth about $1 today. So to drive across people were shelling out the equivalent of $5.

4. The lights were nicknamed Gracie's Necklace

Up until 1986, the Lions Gate Bridge was dark at night, but as part of Expo 86 it got all lit up with 'Gracie's Necklace.'

The nickname comes from Grace McCarthy; at the time she was a prominent MLA in Vancouver. It was her efforts that got the Guinness family (yes, they show up again) to pay for the lights.

However, they didn't pay for the electrical bill. When they were switched over to LED's in 2009, BC Hydro suggested the city would be saving $30,000 per year on their power bill.

5. Some students hung a VW Beetle from it

Many in Vancouver will recall the pranks the UBC engineering students got up to over the years; they apparently go back to the 1940s.

One of their most famous props was VW Beetles, and putting one in odd places has been a popular year-end prank.

As one of the icons of the city, it's probably no surprise Lions Gate Bridge was targetted. It happened twice, once in the 1980s, and once in 2008.

- This story was corrected with the correct toll amounts and inflation.