Example Of Capilano Suspension Bridge Report
Type of paper: Report
Topic: Bridge, Suspension, Suspension Bridge, Hospitality, Tourism, Business, Water, River
The Capilano Suspension Bridge was built in 1889 across the Capilano River by a Scottish engineer named George Grant Mackay in the city of Vancouver. The bridge was initially constructed from hemp ropes and cedar planks, which were later replaced with more durable steel cables in 1903. Over time, the bridge has exchanged ownership several times and has undergone a series of renovations. This is a paper on the Capilano Bridge. Special focus is given to its history, construction, and impact in its locality.
History of the Capilano Suspended Bridge
George Grant Mackay arrived in Vancouver in 1887 and bought 6000 acres from Britain in the Capilano area at the rate of $1 per acre. His intentions for the land, as stated in the purchase contract, were logging, tourism, and mining. Capilano River ran through the western part of the land, which necessitated the construction of a bridge to cross over the canyon (McVeity par. 3).
The Capilano river canyon was 230feet deep, with a slopes either side of the river. George envisioned a suspension bridge as a perfect solution to the problem of navigating across the river. He engaged two First Nation workers and constructed the first bridge which was 150feet long at a height of 230feet above the river. The bridge was secured on both sides by two cedar stamps entrenched into the ground. The bridge holds the record to this day for the longest suspension footbridge.
George divided his 6000acres of land in 1892 and sold the part with the Capilano Bridge to Bruno Steltzer, a wealthy real estate speculator (Vancouver par. 4). Bruno had realized the bridge’s money-generating potential from the way it attraced curious and adventurous tourists. George died a year later, after selling the property in 1893.
In the early 1900s, the bridge was buried deep in the bushes and visitors had to make an arduous four stage journey to reach it. Tourists had to ride the trolley up to the Vancouver ferry, they then had to travel on a ferry to North Vancouver, travel the last few kilometers of Capilano road by trolley and finally walk for a mile to the bridge. For this reason, early visitors were referred to as tramps for tramping the bushes all the way to the bridge (Capilano Suspension Bridge Park par. 5).
Bruno renovated the bridge in1903 by replacing the hemp ropes with steel cables to make it stronger and sturdier. This reassured tourists who shied away from crossing the bridge questioning its integrity. He also introduced a 10cent charge per visitor crossing the bridge, thus making it the oldest an also the most famous tourist attraction in Vancouver (North Vancouver Visitor Centre par. 7).
Edward Mahon, a businessman from England, bought the bridge in 1910. Edward turned the bridge into a family business managed by his mother in law, Elizabeth Rebbeck. Edward, through his business acumen, established a teahouse next to the bridge to capitalize on the visitors’ need for refreshments and thirst in 1911. For his peace of mind and for the visitors’ safety, Edward reinforced the bridge with steel cables in 1914. He later sold the bridge to Mac MacEachran twenty one years later in 1935 (Vancouver Attractions par.5).
After buying the bridge, Mac invited First Nation Artisans, who included a famous artist from Kia’palano named Mathias Joe Capilano, to make carvings in the park. This sparked the tradition of story poles and the display of artwork from the First Nation on the Capilano Bridge. As a result, Capilano has the largest number of story poles in the world, with southern and northern style of pole carving (Vancouver Attractions par. 12).
Mac sold the bridge to Henri Aubeneau, a land developer, and migrated to California. During his ownership of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Henri did not make any changes to the bridge or the park. He later sold it in 1953 to Douglas McRae Mitchell.
Douglass was a business savvy and aggressive individual who raised the bridges popularity through a worldwide advertising campaign. The cables had not been upgraded since 1914 and Douglass made that one of his top priorities in the property’s development. In 1956, Douglass rebuilt the bridge within five days. He replaced the old cables with new multi stranded cables fastened to 13tons of concrete on either side of the bridge. The new bridge design could support 1,333 people at a go without failure, a design that has persisted to the present day without much modification. Also, Douglas converted the teahouse to a gift store and developed the trails on the western side of the bridge. After Douglas’ retirement, business on the bridge declined and almost halted to a stop (Capilano Suspension Bridge Park pr. 9)
Douglas’ daughter, Nancy Mitchell, bought the bridge from her father in 1983. Nancy believed she could turn the bridge’s fortune around and help it regain its former glory. Nancy had worked for her father as a child and therefore understood the bridge and its potential very well. Her input on the property is evidenced by the present luster of the bridge and the park. Presently, on display are artifacts such as life size murals, flip books and antiques which chronicle the history of the bridge, the property, and the larger Vancouver area.
In 2011, Nancy’s son, John Stibbard, introduced the Cliffwalk. The cliffwalk is a cantilever walkway jutting off the canyon walls at an elevation of 300feet above the Capilano River and its 700feet long and 50cm wide. The cliffwalk has fixed handrails anchored to steel beams cantilever from 16 points on the granite rock overlooking the canyon.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge has withstood tragedies and natural calamities that have led to unprecedented loading on the bridge. In 1962, Hurricane Frieda blew across the property wreaking havoc, but the bridge stood unharmed. Recently in the winter of 2006, a 93,000pound, 9.4 meters, 300 year old Douglas fir tree fell on the western part of the bridge. The cables did not snap under the loading, but the bridge was closed for three months for renovations. During this time, the tree was removed from the bridge and testing was done. Also the supporting concrete on either side of the bridge was upgraded to 114tons (Capilano Suspension Bridge Park par. 4).
Incidents involving visitors have happened on the bridge, some of them fatal. In a controversial incident in 1999, a woman dropped her disabled child from the bridge but it did not die. The woman was suspected of a possible homicide and she lost custody of the child. Later on, a fatal incident involving a student on a class trip from California occurred in 2010. The teenager fell from a 98feet high viewing platform next to the bridge. He died before rescue workers could get to him. Investigation showed that the student was under the influence of LSD at the time of the incident. Another fatality on the property occurred in 2012 when a 30year old Canadian tourist hiking along the trails near the bridge climbed over the railings and plunged to his death on the rocks below (McVeity par. 10).
Figure 1: Macky's cabin on the bridge in early 1900s. Source: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Figure 2: Edward’s tea house next to the bridge built in 1911. Source: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Figure 3: The present day Capilano Suspended Bridge. Source: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Figure 4: The cliff walk cantilevered from the granite cliff overlooking the Capilano River. Source: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Civilization and culture associated with the Capilano Suspended Bridge
The name Capilano was first used by the Squamish Nation in reference to the First Nation, which meaning “beautiful river” and was spelled as Kia’palano. Later on, the name morphed to Capilano, a name synonymous with the bridge and park.
When he bought the property in 1988, George Grant did not have any idea that it would become the landmark structure that it is today. In fact, he did not regard the bridge as an income-generating venture or as a tourist destination. During the time of construction in the late 1800s, settlement in North Vancouver was not so much pronounced and the people living in that region practiced logging and lumber harvesting as the main economic activities. The initial settlers cleared the forest to build homes and build businesses. The forests were a source of wealth and prosperity and the people believed that the bigger the portion of the forest that one owned, the more wealthy they were. This could have been the driving force that made George acquire 6,000 acres for himself and build the bridge.
With the passing of time, the bridge started attracting attention from the local people who travelled to the still remote Capilano River to see it. George, being a civil engineer and not a business man, did not realize that he could generate some income from the bridge. It was not until Bruno Steltzer took over the bridge and introduced the 10cents per view fee that the bridge became an income generating tourist attraction (Vancouver Attractions par.7).
Since construction, the bridge has attracted thrill seekers who have enjoyed watching the river coursing below from among the tree tops. The scenic view of the park has become a main tourist destination in Vancouver and has been featured in popular culture with various television shows being shot on the site. Episodes from television series such as MacGyver, Psych, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, and Sliders feature scenes shot on the bridge.
Experiments on social behavior have also been conducted on the bridge. Social Psychologists Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton studied the effect the thrill and fear that the bridge instilled on visitors had on people’s sexual behavior. They found out that respondents who were approached by female researchers on the bridge were more likely call them back than those on a fixed bridge. The psychologists argued that the men were confusing fear due to the height and the swaying bridge with sexual attraction. These findings were in line with the theory of two factor emotion by Stanley Schachter.
Construction of the Capilano Bridge
The initial Capilano Suspended Bridge was constructed by just three people, George Grant Mackay and the two Fist Nation workers. The construction materials were hemp ropes and cedar planks, which are relatively light and thus were easily strung over the tree stumps. But the three men could not manage to pull and raise the flexible bridge over the canyon despite its relatively light weight. Given that there were no elaborate cranes available at that time to string a fully complete bridge over the canyon, the bridge had to be constructed over suspended ropes running across the canyon.
Three sets of hemp ropes were strung to the tree stamps on either side of the canyon. These were for the floor section and the rails on each side. This is because the ropes alone are not heavy and three men could manage to pull tight a 450feet long rope from one end when the other end was tied to a fixed tree stump. After the ropes were hang to the required tightness and height over the river, next followed the laying of pre-cut cedar planks, one after the other, on the floor of the bridge. This was done until all the floor area of the bridge was covered with cedar. For the rails, George and his team wove the hemp ropes over the horizontally positioned ropes running over the whole bridge length.
Steel cabling of the bridge has been done thrice during the bridge’s lifetime, in 1903 by Bruno Steltzer, in 1914 by Edward Mahon, and in 1956 by Henri Aubeneau. The latter cabling still exists with extra anchoring done in 2006 after the Douglas fir tree incident.
In the initial renovations in 1903, the ropes were still strong and were replaced with steel cables as a cautionary measure. The bridge could not be taken down so the ropes were replaced by aligning a steel cable parallel with the rope, then removing the rope afterwards. During the 1914 renovations, extra cables were laid next to the existing ones. This did not necessitate the removal of the old cables and as such, individual cables were strung very easily using the old cables for support (North Vancouver Visitor Centre par. 4).
During the 1956 renovations, a completely new bridge was built. Multi stranded cables, which were thicker, heavier and stronger were used. Unlike previous versions of the bridge, it was fabricated before being hoisted. Henri and his team tied the new bridge to the old one and used pulleys to pull it tight across the canyon (North Vancouver Visitor Centre par. 6).
In the first two renovations in 1903 and 1914, the work involved required a small work force of around ten wokers to lay the cables on an already existing bridge. However, in 1956, fabricating and stringing a new bridge was a daunting task that required the services of an appreciable number of laborers.
Possible procedure for the construction of a suspended bridge today
If the Capilano Suspended Bridge was constructed today, the construction process would be very much different from the way it was done in 1989. First, an elaborate design and simulation process would have to be conducted. Assessment of anticipated loading would be done and the steel cables would be selected depending on the maximum load expected and the stress-strain relationship of steel.
Studies would also focus on other peripheral factors such as the stability of the rocks on either side of the canyon, effects of the direct environment on the structure materials such as rusting. Also, possible occurrences of resonance due to wind and people walking on the bridge would influence the bridge design in order to prevent catastrophic accidents.
Two concrete pillars capable of supporting the bridge load would be erected on either side of the bridge and reinforced with steel. The pillars would be built on a strong and deep foundation in order to resist the bending forces. Provisions would then be made on the pillars to allow for attachment of the bridge.
After the materials have been selected, the bridge would then be fabricated to the required parameters in respect to length, width and height. This would be done for all the three parts of the bridge, the floor and the two railings. The prefabricated bridge parts would then be transported to the site using trailers, preferably one part at a time. Lorries equipped with cranes would be positioned on either side of the bridge, which would then be used to string the bridge parts over the canyon. After the floor cables have been laid, the bridge rails would then be hoisted up and fixed to the floor and fastened to concrete pillars on either side of the bridge. The floor would then be fabricated from strong hardwood such as mahogany.
The Capilano Suspended Bridge is an important landmark that tells of the rich history of Vancouver. The park is a major tourist destination and has served to “sell” Vancouver to the rest of the world. Even though the initial owner did not foresee any monetary returns from its construction, the bridge has served as a source of a steady stream of income for its subsequent owners. The present owners have capitalized on the scenery of the park with the addition of a cliffwalk in a bid to net in more visitors, both locally and internationally. The economic and structural resilience of the bridge since the early 1900 shows it’s a viable investment opportunity for future owners.
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North Vancouver Visitor Centre. “Capilano Suspension Bridge.” Vancouver's North Shore Tourism 2015. Web 5th April. 2015.
Vancouver Attractions. Capilano Suspension Bridge; Park Naturally Thrilling Since 1889. Capilano Suspension Bridge, n.d. Web 15th April. 2015.
Vancouver .“Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.” Visitor Activities, n.d. Web 15th April. 2015.