Controversial yet iconic: Calgary’s Peace Bridge marks 10 years

In the 10 years since the first Calgarians walked across the Peace Bridge over the Bow River between Eau Claire and Memorial Drive, the former lightning rod for controversy has become a centre piece of the Calgary skyline.

The Peace Bridge holds a special place in the heart of one Calgary couple who became engaged mid-span across the bridge deck about eight years ago in a surprise proposal.

Chad Knowler knelt down and proposed to Tyler Thornhill as a hidden photographer captured the moment.

“It just became a special place for us. After 10 years I think it’s a really defining piece of Calgary now,” said Knowler.

The couple had their first date on the bridge.

Thornhill moved to Calgary from the United States and was already aware of the distinctive red crisscrossed structure.

“The bridge has always held significance for us. For those 10 years we have been coming here pretty much nonstop,” said Thornhill.

THE CHOSEN SETTING

Regardless of the importance of the occasion, the Peace Bridge has been the chosen setting for many Calgarians since Mar. 24, 2012.

However the water isn’t fully under the bridge since the project was first approved amid heated debate.

According to the City of Calgary in September 2008: Calgary city council approves the bridge in a 7-6 vote, with two aldermen absent. (For: Dave Bronconnier, Joe Ceci, Druh Farrell, Linda Fox-Mellway, Bob Hawkesworth, John Mar, Brian Pincott. Against: Andre Chabot, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Joe Connelly, Ray Jones, Ric McIver, Jim Stevenson. Absent: Dale Hodges, Gord Lowe.)

“For me, it was kind of a non-starter, like really? Do we need this?” Said then-opposed councillor Andre Chabot, who has returned to city council in 2021 representing Ward 10.

Chabot said there were numerous reasons he was skeptical of the bridge.

The final tally for the cost of construction came to $24.96 million.

The single-source contract was awarded to the European architect Santiago Calatrava.

“You’re talking about doing a single-source contract with somebody with an organization that’s not even in Canada, let alone Alberta,” said Chabot.

The man running across at centre frame of the one image is Alain Gallagher, who regularly runs across the bridge as part of his route. (Photo: Stephanie Thomas)

Other pedestrian bridges already spanned the Bow downstream near the city core.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Thursday in a statement: “The 10th anniversary doesn’t change the fact that this bridge is unnecessary, expensive and had a questionable process. Our hope is the anniversary draws attention to the poor decisions that were made, like the sole source contract, and ensures the mistakes of this project are not repeated,” said Kevin Lacey, Alberta director.

Some of those who opposed the project 10 years ago have moved past their initial concern.

Former mayor Naheed Nenshi was in office for the grand opening, and said he wasn’t a big fan at first.

“I was very skeptical, but it was (already) getting built. And so I remember the day that I opened it 10 years ago I said, Calgarians, I hope you prove me wrong. I hope that people use it and I hope that people love it,” said Nenshi.

He said the city of Calgary demonstrated boldness and innovation.

“(Calgary is) not a cheap city, or a city that is embarrassed about building nice things, like the Central Library, it’s become a bit of a calling card for the city.”

Councillor Chabot has also changed his tune about the Peace Bridge.

“I almost have to admit that it has benefited the city from a monetary, tourism perspective,” he said.

DESIGNED TO BECOME ICONIC

The architect says the 85 tonne red-helix shape was designed to become iconic for the Calgary community.

“We’re delighted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of our specially designed Peace Bridge in Calgary. When we set out to design this iconic bridge for the community of Eau Claire, we hoped it would be embraced as the city’s landmark structure and celebrated in posterity,” said Santiago Calatrava in a statement to CTV News.

“The one-of-a-kind bridge was carefully engineered to form a red structured helix shape, generating a striking contrast to the surrounding landscape. The main challenge in the design was to keep its height to a minimum due to the Bow River Heliport, while at the same time creating a structure that avoided placing any supports in the water. This allowed us to minimize its ecological footprint and make the structure more sustainable.

Spanish-Swiss architect Santiago Calatrava Valls, left, poses in front of a rendering of his project with his son Gabriel Calatrava, right, during a press conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, April 10, 2016. Dubai is reaching for the sky once again, with the developer of its world’s tallest building vowing Sunday to build an even taller tower bedecked with rotating balconies and elevated landscaping inspired by the mythical hanging gardens of Babylon. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

“We feel honoured,” he added,  “that in the time since its opening, the bridge has been embraced by the community and it has become an icon to the beautiful city of Calgary.”

Several Calgarians on the 10th anniversary told CTV News they are happy to cross that bridge when they get there.

“It’s like a piece of art. People flock to it,” said Sahil Sund.

“It’s well used, people love it, you get graduations on the bridge,” said Joan White.

“They said it was too expensive (but) you know I think it’s paid off handsomely since,” said Alain Gallagher.

“I’ve met many of my friends crossing that bridge,” said Fiona Kennedy.

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