Saturday, August 31, 2013

for three hours Montreal … heralded the arrival of the Prince of Wales by an endless blaze of light - from horizon to zenith all was brilliant …

"Wood engraving | Grand Finale of Fire-Works in Honor of the Prince of Wales and the Successful Completion of the Victoria Bridge, Montreal, Canada East. | M975.62.263.3"

The Grand Finale of fireworks for the opening of the Victoria Bridge in Montreal, August 25, 1860

From The Montreal Witness, August 29th 1860
There were many transatlantic and American visitors in the city, and their unanimous declaration was that the lighting up of Great St. James, from Victoria Square to the Place d'Armes, had never been surpassed. The sight in the harbour was magnificent; the war steamers, the Canadian Mail steamer, and the Glasgow steamer "United Kingdom" were illuminated; while from all the decks shot up flights of rockets, and brilliant lights flashed from every port-hole, Rockets and Bengal lights were fired from St. Helen's; while from the Great Bridge the display was magnificent. Every Street added its contribution of candle light or glare of gas, so that for three hours Montreal, so to speak, heralded the arrival of the Prince of Wales by an endless blaze of light - from horizon to zenith all was brilliant, outviewing oriental splendour and magnificence... All the public squares were tastefully decorated with transparencies and coloured lanterns profusely interspersed among its foliage... The dome of the City Hall was brilliantly lighted up with 3,000 jets of gas, and the windows of the large building were variegated with transparencies and Chinese lanterns." 

The Victoria Bridge was known as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ at the time of its construction in 1860 – and believe it or not, it was and to some extent, still is. The Victoria Bridge, with its original piers is standing yet, and is still used for train travel, and now vehicles. In 1860 it was the longest bridge in the world – here in Canada – not the US with its greater number of railway lines, not Britain from where the engineers and designers to make the bridge were hired.
Montreal depended on the river and ferries in the summer and ice roads in the winter to do business with the States and the rest of Canada – but when the river wasn’t usable because it was in the process of freezing or thawing, Montreal came to a standstill. A bridge across the St. Lawrence River seemed impossible – it was nearly 2 miles across and the river froze solid in winter and had huge ice dams when the spring came. Anything in the water would have to withstand the continued freezing and thawing – and the current which was really strong at 11 kilometers an hour. It’s not like it is today – the distance across isn’t as wide anymore as some of the river has been filled with landfill and this has also helped tame the current.
But in 1860 everything was about progress, about how we could create a more perfect world – innovation, change, the new possibilities of what the human mind, and body, could do – from tightrope walking over Niagara Falls or even stilt walking along the edge like Farini (William Hunt – of Port Hope, Ontario), to building impossible bridges. Famous Robert Stephenson came along with his tubular bridge – one where trains travelled through large tubes made of iron plates (steel wasn’t invented yet and iron is a lot heavier than steel so his design was ingenious) supported on piers. In the case of the Victoria Bridge he decided on piers shaped like ships’ hulls to break up the spring ice. The piers were placed at an angle as well to help with breaking the ice apart and having it move downstream instead of building up at the piers where the ice created dangerous pressure. ... There's even a stained glass window in Westminster Abbey of Stephenson's bridges - the Victoria Bridge alongside his one on the Nile.    

 There oughta be a replica of that window here, don't you think?

As a side note, the Prince of Wales was Albert Edward, the son of Queen Victoria. He reigned as King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. At the time of his visit he wasn’t yet married – he married in 1863, had lots of affairs. His first son was born in 1864, 2 months early and died at age 28, breaking the hearts of both his mother and father.

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