Centre Street Bridge Collapses

June 28, 1915

House in Elbow Park on 40th Ave. SW
Glenbow Library and Archives NA-4355-17

Record amounts of rainfall were recorded in June 1915. The rivers rose rapidly and were soon threatening bridges, streets, homes and utilities. The rain was accompanied by winds and even a tornado at Redcliff.

Three lives lost; three bridges carried away and two others seriously damaged; something like 2,000,000 feet of logs swept down river; miles of streets badly washed and injured… Morning Albertan, June 28, 1915

1915 Flooded residential area. 40th Ave. SW during Elbow River flood. (Credit: Glenbow Library and Archives NA 5200-59)


Calgary was a city of just under 68,000 inhabitants when the flood hit. It had a street railway system and a municipally owned light and power department. A training camp, Sarcee, had been established on its western edge to prepare soldiers for battle in the Great War.

1915 Flooded residential area. Flooded residential area. (Credit: The City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA910530022)


The City of Calgary workers, the local detachment of the Royal North West Mounted Police and the fire department were all engaged in rescuing people stranded by the flood.

City crews were tasked with the removal of debris trapped by the new Mission Bridge and also were responsible for monitoring the situation with other bridges. The City’s efforts to save the Mission Bridge cost the life of one of its workers – Quinton Dunn Campbell – who lost his footing while removing drift wood and fell into the Elbow River. His body was recovered the next day, caught against a wire at the City power house in Victoria Park.


The flood of 1915 caused considerable damage and, once again, Calgary was temporarily isolated due to washouts on the railway lines. The communities of Elbow Park, Rideau Park, Roxboro, Hillhurst and Sunnyside were particularly hard hit by flood waters causing many residents to be evacuated. Soldiers training at Sarcee Camp were also affected by the storm: although many of the tents had been pitched on higher, well drained sites, some had not and were inundated. The training grounds were a sea of muck and the access roads were all but impassable.

The flood destroyed the original Centre Street Bridge despite valiant efforts to save it. A man on his way to work was washed away when the bridge went down, as was the City Commissioner. The Commissioner was saved but the workman was not. The debris from the Centre Street Bridge damaged two of the pilings of the St. George’s Island Bridge and destroyed the small bridge between St. George’s and St. Patrick’s islands.

1915 Remnants of Centre St. Bridge Remnants of Centre St. Bridge looking Northwest. (Credit: The City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA 910604051)

The high water threatened to destroy the recently completed concrete bridge across the Elbow in the Mission district. The bridge between Elboya and Elbow Park had to be dismantled to prevent it interfering with the water flow. The flood damaged the intake to the waterworks system on the Elbow River. Additionally, the gas line into Calgary was broken, suspending gas flow into the city. The power plant in Victoria Park was partially flooded which interrupted power service and shut down the street railway.

Because the natural gas supply was cut off by the flood, restaurant owners had to improvise. Some were able to convert their stoves back to coal or wood, but for others, fried eggs were a luxury and toast was out of the question unless you had an electric toaster. A cup of piping hot coffee in almost any downtown restaurant was a memory of the past and nothing more. Edward Kolb, manager of Kolb’s Café, handled the situation with humour. Across the top of the Kolb menu, in big capital letters was REMEMBER THIS MEAL HAS BEEN PREPARED ON HEATLESS, GASLESS STOVES, AND IF IT IS NOT WELL COOKED, BLAME EUGENE COSTE. (Coste was president of the Gas Company.)


The newspaper coverage of the flood ended abruptly on June 29, with articles on World War I once again dominating the news. And, come hell or high water, the Calgary Industrial Exhibition opened on schedule.


The water works system was improved with the addition of a second reservoir and a filtration system, something Calgary’s citizens had been clamouring for. Although a new Centre Street Bridge had been proposed (the original having been condemned by the Alberta Highways Department) plans had stalled because of the war and because of the grandiosity of the plans suggested by Thomas Mawson. Citizens feared an unmanageable rate increase. The loss of the old bridge, however, would make building the new one imperative. A money by-law was passed and although it was not without controversy, the new Centre Street Bridge, considered one of the finest in the country, would take only two years to build.



The peak water flow on the Bow River above the Elbow was 1130 cubic metres. (Source: Get to Know the Bow River Calgary River Forum Society 2012)