Heron bridge collapse: Ontario’s worst workplace disaster

August 10, 2018

On the afternoon of August 10, 1966, a 160-foot span of a new bridge being built over the Rideau River and Canal gave way, dropping hundreds of tons of half set concrete about 60 feet into the river valley. Nine workers were killed and another 55 injured in the disaster – Ontario’s worst workplace “accident”

It’s not listed among the top tourist destinations in Ottawa, but if you are visiting the National Capital Region this summer (as many Canadians do), you may wish to pay your respects to the nine workers who went to work that day and never got to go home, and the other 55 whose lives were forever changed.

An official inquest into the disaster laid blame on the engineers, the use of green lumber and the lack of diagonal bracing on the wooden support forms, which caused them to collapse as concrete was being poured to form the bridge deck.

The consequences for those responsible – the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario suspended two of its members, reprimanded a third, and the construction company, O.J. Gaffney Limited of Stratford, Ontario, was fined $5,000 (the maximum penalty under the Construction Safety Act).

Ontario’s construction safety standards were rewritten following this incident.

In 1987, the Canadian Labour Congress placed its National Monument to Workers Killed and Injured Each Year at Work in Ottawa’s Vincent Massey Park, within sight of the bridge. It is here that the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ottawa & District Labour Council, and local unions hold their ceremony each year on April 28 to mark the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.

Occupational “accidents” and work-related diseases kill more than 2.3 million workers around the world each year. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

“The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) tell us that in 2016, 904 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada. Among those dead were 5 young workers aged fifteen to nineteen years; and another 20 workers aged twenty to twenty-four years.

Add to these fatalities the 240,682 claims accepted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease, including 7,562 from young workers aged fifteen to nineteen, and the fact that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by the compensation boards, and it is safe to say that the total number of workers impacted is even higher.

What these numbers don’t show is just how many people are directly affected by these workplace tragedies. Each workers death impacts the loved ones, families, friends and coworkers they leave behind, changing all of their lives forever.”

Archives

More stories from Canada’s Labour History.

Archives

Resources:

Ottawa Citizen:
The Ottawa bridge collapse that shocked the world

Collapse recalled on eve of Heron Road bridge renaming

Reporter Bruce Deachman on the Heron Road Bridge collapse

Picture of human error emerges from inquest into collapse of bridge (1966)

CBC-Ottawa:
‘Never be forgotten’: Heron Road Bridge renamed 50 years after deadly collapse

Families remember Heron Road Bridge disaster

Today in Ottawa’s History:
The Heron Road Bridge Disaster

Other Resources:

Canadian Labour Congress:

Health & Safety

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety

The National Day of Mourning – April 28

Huffington Post:

National Day Of Mourning: This Is How Many Canadians Die At Work

Related Articles

Canada’s unions mourn with Indigenous communities, call for action

Canada’s unions stand with Indigenous communities across Canada as they mourn the lives of 215 children whose remains were discovered at a burial site at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. “Our hearts are with residential school survivors, their families and all the children who never returned to the homes from which they were taken,” said Hassan Yussuff,…
Read More

Canada’s unions call for urgent action to address hate crimes against 2SLGBTQI people

Canada’s unions are marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) by urging the federal government to address the rise in hate crimes against 2SLGBTQI communities in Canada. “There is no place for homophobic, transphobic or biphobic violence in our communities,” said Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). “Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans…
Read More

Canada’s unions mark May Day by calling on governments to prioritize workers and their families

Canada’s unions are marking May Day by urging the federal government to act quickly to implement its most recent budget promises, which include significant investments in child care, job creation and skills training. May Day is an annual celebration held every May 1st during which workers from around the world celebrate the achievements made by trade unions. This year, the…
Read More