Today marks 126 years since a Victoria tragedy left a streetcar full of men, women and children dead—55, to be exact.
Going down in history as one of BC’s worst transit disasters, it’s since been dubbed the ‘Point Ellice Bridge Disaster’.
On May 26th, 1896, locals celebrated Queen Victoria’s 76th birthday and took streetcars to get around town, with a mock naval battle scheduled to take place in Esquimalt, according to the Point Ellice House Museum.
Just before 2 p.m., as 143 passengers crossed the Point Ellice Bridge, which connected Victoria to Victoria West, the bridge collapsed, and the number 16 streetcar plunged into the Upper Harbour.
“Due to lacking safety standards, poor bridge maintenance, and the overcrowded car, the streetcar fell into the water as the bridge gave out beneath it,” the museum recalled.
Staff at Point Ellice House say boats raced to the scene to help before the streetcar was eventually hauled up onto the shore, but it was too late.
Reports the next day detailed the horror witnessed by those involved, including how people, both dead and alive, were pulled from the water and onto the lawns of the surrounding neighbourhood.
Now often referred to as the Bay Street Bridge, a new Point Ellice Bridge was eventually built and opened in 1957—nearly a decade after Victoria’s streetcar system shuttered for good.