Bridging the gap

St. Patrick’s Bridge opening connects East Village to Bridgeland, Sunnyside

After more than a year of delays, the long-awaited St. Patrick’s Bridge officially opened to the public this week.

The $25-million pedestrian bridge is expected to see more than 4,000 people annually traversing between the communities of Bridgeland and Sunnyside north of Memorial Drive to the revitalized East Village. Officials at the grand opening said it will cater to walkers and cyclists heading in and out of downtown, as well as improve access to nearby attractions such as Fort Calgary and the Calgary Zoo.

The bridge was near completion last year before floods stripped its deck, forcing organizers back to the drawing board.

“It was five years ago when Calgary Municipal Land Corp. (CMLC) started on what we believed would be a four-year journey to deliver the new St. Patrick’s Bridge,” said Michael Brown, president and CEO of Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), created by the City of Calgary in 2007 to revitalize the once-forgotten area of downtown.

“But Mother Nature, she had other plans. And when last year’s flooding stripped the bridge deck three months before completion, we had to wait another year.”

Paris-based architectural firm RFR group, which beat out 33 other firms as part of an international competition in 2009, designed the bridge to look like a stone skipping across the water.

“This is a functional bridge first and foremost,” said Jean-Francois Blassel, chief architect with RFR group. “For thousands of Calgarians who commute into downtown Calgary every day, this crossing is a priority. Its simple design, wide deck, seating areas and inviting esthetics make it both a path and a place – a highly function pedestrian connector and a ‘balcony’ from which you can observe St. Patrick’s Island, the city and the river.”

The bridge is part of the $45-million project to restore the 12.5-hectare St. Patrick’s Island, one of the city’s oldest parks. It’s expected to open in 2015, featuring a picnic zone, natural walking paths and a toboggan hill.

“It was a popular playground in the middle of the last century, but over a period of decades it lost favour, as did the community of East Village,” said Coun. Druh Farrell. “So this remarkable island oasis has been hiding in plain sight for decades.

“With the new connection from East Village to the communities north of the Bow (River), Calgarians are going to rediscover a long-forgotten treasure. And when they do, they’re going to be in for a surprise because CMLC is restoring the island into a jewel that will open next summer.”

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