Controversial structure opens over budget, behind schedule but still draws large crowd
Whether one loves it or hates it, the controversial Peace Bridge has officially been opened.
The 130-metre bridge across the Bow River connects the neighbourhoods of Eau Claire and Hillhurst-Sunnyside. Mayor Naheed Nenshi officially declared it open on Saturday, March 24.
More than 1,000 Calgarians came out to the opening ceremony.
As the only elected official to speak during the ceremony, Nenshi challenged Calgarians to prove the bridge's detractors wrong.
"What a lot of critics said about this bridge, me included, was that not enough people would use it," Nenshi told the large crowd that had gathered in Eau Claire. "Today, folks, it's our chance as Calgarians to prove them wrong."
After walking across the bridge, Nenshi spoke to reporters about the financial overruns and construction delays that have plagued the project.
"We should really celebrate this opening for what is," he said. "Whether or not you think it's a good thing or a bad thing, no matter where you stand on the controversy, it's an iconic and important piece — and indelible piece — of Calgary's landscape."
Nenshi added that the city's point of view is that they had a fixed price contract on the bridge.
"Certainly there have been construction delays but the city's point of view is that these delays should properly reside with the contractor, not the taxpayer," he said.
Alderman overwhelmed by turnout
Ward 7 alderman Druh Farrell, whose support of the bridge was also at times controversial, said the large crowd that turned out for the opening pleased her.
"The number of people who have shown up to support it is overwhelming for me," she said.
Farrell added that the bridge, which was built in the ward that she represents, was a learning process for the city.
"People want their city to be beautiful, and they want architecture that lasts. I think we know how to do it better next time."
Veteran among first to cross the bridge
The significance of the bridge's name played a role in the day's celebration.
Clarence Wolf Leg, Siksika elder and peacekeeping veteran, offered a blessing for the bridge in the Blackfoot language.
"The landscape here, I look at it still as an open beautiful place to be," Wolf Leg said.
Korean War veteran Don Zabel arrived early to take pictures of the bridge and to secure a spot in line. When the bridge opened, Zabel was among the very first Calgarians to walk across the bridge.
Zabel said he feels the naming of the bridge, and its location adjacent to Memorial Drive, is an appropriate way to honour Canadian peacekeepers.
"It's something new for us," Zabel said. "I know it hasn't been popular with everyone. But now that the bridge is here and it's in, I think it's great.
"I wanted to be down here. We are getting in the age group where we only have two or three veterans with legs strong enough to walk around."
Calgarians line up
West Hillhurst resident Susan Ross, who frequently cycles in Eau Claire, brought her bike to the opening and, like Zabel, lined up early to be among the first across.
Although Ross said she understood the controversy regarding the Peace Bridge's proximity to the 10th Street bridge but thinks the new bridge is a "fabulous" addition to the area.
"I was always in favour of it," Ross said. "I know it's very expensive and I know it's very close to the other bridge, but I had to get off my bike and walk across the other bridge because there was always so many people.
"This way, I can ride my bike right across, so I am very happy."
Bill Lambe, another early arrival at the opening ceremony, said he believes the bridge was worth the cost.
"I think it's super. It's beautiful and well worth the money," Lambe said. "I ride my bike here in the summer, so I will be going across it."
Lambe said he thinks the controversy over the bridge will die down now that the structure has finally been opened for public use.
"I think it's all nonsense," Lambe said. "I think it will all blow over once people come down here and see it. "
A few still protest
Thirty minutes after the official opening, there was still a long lineup in Eau Claire to cross the bridge.
But for all the celebration and excitement of crossing the newly-opened bridge, a few Calgarians remained unconvinced of the structure's worth.
Downtown resident Robert Skeith, pointing to the 10th Street bridge located west of the Peace Bridge, and the Princess Island bridge to the east, said he doesn't understand why the Peace Bridge was necessary.
"In all honesty, there is a bridge right over there and right over there. Why did we need one in the middle?" Skeith said. "It looks good, that's all it is. It's just something to get attention."
Carol Cote was part of a small group of protestors holding up signs on Memorial Drive criticizing the cost of the bridge.
"It's not needed. Twenty-five million dollars would have bought a lot of housing for people who are still on the street," Cote said.
- By KARRY TAYLOR