Montréal can boast of being the site of the eighth wonder of the world—which is what the Victoria Bridge was considered when it was built in the 1850s. It was the first bridge to cross the St. Lawrence River and represented incredible and substantial progress at the time.
The need to build a railway bridge connecting Montréal to the South Shore and thus to American cities (to avoid the slowdown in trade caused by the ice surrounding Montréal) became rapidly apparent in the 19th century. The idea came from Montréal businessman John Young, but was spearheaded by the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada. Pointe-Saint-Charles proved to be the ideal site for the Victoria Bridge, since the river is narrower there. Engineers Alexander McKenzie Ross and Robert Stephenson created plans for a less expensive, longer-lasting tubular bridge that would enable trains to travel at higher speeds.
Supervised by engineer James Hodge, work on the bridge started in 1854 and was completed by 1859. The construction site had 1500 to 3000 workers, mostly of British, French-Canadian and Irish origin. Construction of the bridge could not continue year-round, since only certain types of work could be carried out in winter. To meet deadlines, labourers worked day and night when the site was open. In 1858-1859, work continued throughout the winter, in part because the Grand Trunk Railway offered the engineers bonuses if everything was completed by 1859 instead of 1860. Their gambit paid off. On December 17, 1859, the first train crossed the Victoria Bridge.
The inauguration took place only in the summer of 1860, but it was well worth the wait. The Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria, presided over the ceremony. The grandiose festivities included banquets, balls, fireworks and more. Building the Victoria Bridge marked a milestone in infrastructure construction and proved that it was possible to cross the St. Lawrence River other than by boat or on an ice bridge. Trains still use the bridge today, now alongside cars.