PANDEMIC PROJECTS

Sry-train-on-bridge

The world had effectively taken in the welcome mat but this was something you could do, something different and definable.

It’s good to have purpose.

Especially in a pandemic.

Bob Ross didn’t set out to walk over each and every bridge in the Lower Mainland during the Covid lockdowns. Bob and his wife, Sandra, were waiting while their snow tires were being replaced and the Oak Street Bridge was right there and, well, you know, one thing leads to another. And another. And another. In fact, it led to walking over 32 bridges before the pandemic was a year old. Gyms were closed. Activities of every sort were severely curtailed. Walking was one of the few exercise options available.

Activities of every sort were severely curtailed. Walking was one of the few exercise options available.

There’s something about a bridge that engages people. When visiting New York, people set aside an afternoon to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Tower Bridge in London is thronged with tourists at any time of day. People are already signing up for the October 22nd reopening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. (For inspiration, they’ve lowered the price for the climb to $198 from the usual price of $308. Shockingly expensive, isn’t it?).

Photo of the Vancouver Burrard Bridge by Bob and Sandra Ross from their book “We’ll Cross That Bridge”.

Burrard Bridge isn’t quite as epic a structure as the aforementioned, but you’d have to admit, the view is mighty fine. Bob and Sandra must have thought so too, as they set out to cross it next. They traveled north over the Burrard Street bridge then returned south over the Granville Street bridge. It occurred to them that they’d crossed three of Vancouver’s bridges. It was then that it dawned on them: Why not make a point of crossing all of Vancouver’s major bridges? The world had effectively taken in the welcome mat but this was something you could do, something different and definable. Their first bridge crossing had been on April 2nd. By the middle of May, they’d walked over eight of Vancouver’s nine major bridges. They would have covered off all nine but one of the bridges isn’t pedestrian accessible. Do you know which one?

It was then that it dawned on them: Why not make a point of crossing all of Vancouver’s major bridges?

By the time Canada Day rolled around, the Rosses had crossed all of the significant bridges in the Lower Mainland. Being as nothing succeeds like excess and being as the pandemic showed no signs of letting up, they expanded their purview, setting their sights on Fraser River crossings as far away as Hope. Due to an injury, Sandra’s participation was scaled back but, by the first week of December, Bob had completed his grandiose pandemic project and had crossed his last local bridge. 

Photo of the Second Narrows Train Bridge by Bob and Sandra Ross from their book “We’ll Cross That Bridge”.
Photo of the Mission Railway Bridge by Bob and Sandra Ross from their book “We’ll Cross That Bridge”.
Photo of underneath the Queensborough Bridge by Bob and Sandra Ross from their book “We’ll Cross That Bridge”.

So what do you do when you’ve finished a task like this one? Why, you write a book about it, of course!  We’ll Cross That Bridge is a handsome compendium of these many bridges and includes surprising histories that illustrate the changes in the region. I’d grown up hearing about the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge disaster but never knew the extent of the tragedy until I read Bob’s book. I’d heard about the misery of the flood of 1948 but I didn’t know that the bridge-mounted Mission River Gauge still monitors water levels on the Fraser to provide an early warning system. Bob checked out a yellow phone box on the pedestrian railing while crossing the Alex Fraser Bridge. The bridge patrol noticed this and checked with Bob to see if he was okay; the yellow box houses a crisis line phone. Turns out lots of bridges have a crisis line phone box. 

The bridge patrol noticed this and checked with Bob to see if he was okay; the yellow box houses a crisis line phone. Turns out lots of bridges have a crisis line phone box. 

Before the opening of the Cambie Bridge in 1985, False Creek was traversed by a swing span bridge known as the Connaught Bridge. The replacement bridge commemorated Henry J. Cambie’s construction of the rail line through the treacherous Fraser Canyon. You may have wondered about a giant metal hoop set into a concrete base on Expo Boulevard. It’s a ring gear and all that remains of the old swing span bridge. Bob Ross knows about the giant hoop as he attended the opening ceremony of the Cambie Bridge as he happens to be Cambie’s great grandson.

Bob Ross knows about the giant hoop as he attended the opening ceremony of the Cambie Bridge as he happens to be Cambie’s great grandson.

Photo ofThe Westham Island Bridge by Bob and Sandra Ross from their book “We’ll Cross That Bridge”.

The anecdotes and snippets of local history in We’ll Cross That Bridge make it a delightful read. And as for which of Vancouver’s bridges isn’t pedestrian accessible?

The answer is the Arthur Laing Bridge.

But do you remember what the toll was on the Lions Gate Bridge?  

Bob Ross does.


Where to find We’ll Cross That Bridge:

You can find the book at Hager Books in Kerrisdale.

Address: 2176 W 41st Ave, Vancouver, BC V6M 1Z1


Register for my newsletter to stay up to date for upcoming draws!


This week’s question for readers:

HOW ARE YOUR PANDEMIC PROJECTS GOING? ANYTHING TO REPORT?


Responses to last week’s question:

The intersection of life and death; do you have stories where fate was on your side, but just barely?

I was seventeen, a new driver, hauling a small loaded utility trailer to the dump. I was doing 60 mph, the speed limit. A line of cars was coming towards me and some idiot at the back pulled out and sped toward the front of the line. It was too dangerous to pull onto the gravel shoulder so I braked hard. The car fish-tailed, I almost lost control. Out of options, I quietly accepted my fate and said a quick prayer. Then the miracle happened – the car third in line braked hard, creating a gap, allowing the idiot in the passing car to quickly move back into line. He disappeared into that space a quarter second before our vehicles would have collided. 

Leonard F. Tenisci

On a rainy evening, I packed up my children and dog and headed to the Vancouver airport. Returning home along highway 99 and approaching the tunnel, the largest bang occurred. I held tightly onto the steering wheel, but could not brake. Approaching the concrete divider before the tunnel entrance, I felt like giving up, but I was able to maintain composure, held tight onto the wheel and safely navigated our car. I remember one woman screaming at us, “What the hell are you doing?” I had just saved my entire family’s life and that was this stranger’s reaction…?

Heather Colls

During the war in Croatia, in the fall of 1991, I was living in Dubrovnik, a 3rd year student at the Maritime University. There, I lived in the attic of a house with my roommate. One day, we were in the living room, reading, when the mortar rounds from the Serbian artillery started to fall nearby. We immediately went towards the door that led to the garden, with the intention of going outside to access the door to the basement of the house where it was much safer. The door was a heavy wooden door with a big window that was covered by a light curtain. We were perhaps two meters from the door when a 120 mm mortar round landed in the garden and exploded. The explosion shook the house and broke the windows. The pungent smell of smoke enveloped us and we were showered with the glass from the window. We sustained a few cuts from the flying glass and were shaken from the explosion. We were even more shaken realizing that had we been walking just a little bit faster, we would have been outside, only a few meters from the explosion. It would have been game over for both of us.  

Csaba Magyar

My wife and I will have been married (to each other) for 30 years come next May but it might have been a really short marriage. We were in Spain for our honeymoon, acting like tourists and gawking at the scenery instead of watching where we were going. My wife stepped off a curb to cross the street and by fate or karma or pure luck I reached out to pull her back as a bus went swishing past, a centimetre from our noses.  I felt a little weak in the knees for a moment after that (she has saved my life too, so we’re about even). 

Joel Nitikman

While skiing in Tignes, France at age 17, I fell about 20 metres over a cliff, hitting rocks repeatedly. My bindings and a ski boot tore off. My broken skis resembled a crumpled W, like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them. After I landed on my back, immobile, observers assumed I was dead. Airlifted to hospital, I had no broken bones, only two black eyes, a head wound, and gash on my calf. My father, a dispassionate doctor,  called me on my hospital bedside phone, said, “If you’d landed on your head, you wouldn’t be here right now.”

Heather Conn

Hi Jane, when I was 16 I bought a motorcycle. Much to my chagrin my parents made me take a safe driving course, I had to get up at 6am on Sunday each week to go to it. One day I was at 16th and Arbutus with a buddy on the back. I was first in line to go through the intersection. When the light went green I shoulder checked each way, as I was taught at the school to do before entering the intersection, the most dangerous place to be on a motorcycle. A car was running a late red light and ended up smashing into a car turning left. If I had not done that, well we don’t need to go there. I still shoulder check in my car when I’m the first to enter the intersection.

Malcolm Beames

In 2004 I was driving with a friend on the old single lane Sea to Sky highway. A large black bear ran on to the verge to my left to cross the road and I realized I was going to hit him dead center as he crossed in front of me. Suddenly a huge truck appeared around the bend coming my way at speed and hit the bear square on before it could run in front of my car. I can still see the bear filling the front grill of that truck and then seeing its red brake lights disappearing around the bend in my rear view mirror. We still reminisce about that moment when our lives were spared by the luckiest of timing.

Lane du Toit

Many years ago when going to work at a mill on a midnight shift,  a co-worker and I were waiting for a train to pass.  This is back in the day of cabooses on the back of trains.  There was a bright light and when  it passed we crossed the tracks but another train was coming in the other direction. We didn’t know this because the lights had merged as one.  The train missed my bumper by just a few feet. We both sat there in absolute shock,  looking at each other, then burst out laughing, knowing how close we had come to death.  

Kelvin Lowrie

16 thoughts on “PANDEMIC PROJECTS”

  1. I really enjoy reading your article each week. I was wondering if you know where I could buy the book, We’ll Cross That Bridge. I can’t seem to find this information.
    Thank you

  2. When the pandemic struck, I dusted off my copy of “Ruta’s Closet”, the biography I co-authored in 2011 with the late Ruth Kron Sigal, a Holocaust survivor.
    Not just to re-read but to update. After conversations with Ruth’s family, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and friends of the co-founder of the Vancouver Hidden Children of the Holocaust group, it was clear a new edition was not enough to further her Holocaust education mission.
    The project has become a 25-part educational Podcast series, set for launch worldwide next spring, alongside new print, e-book and audiobook versions.

  3. Hi Jane – As always – really enjoyed this column and the reader’s stories about near misses was breath taking!

    I got into my pandemic project purely by accident, much like the Rosses in your column. I was helping some friends who run New Westminster’s local television station NewWestTV with a shoot. I just gaffed for them, holding equipment and such as I know nothing about shooting a documentary, which is what they were working on that day.

    The announcement of the pandemic had been on the news that day and we were discussing it after wrapping up for the day. I suggested they should be doing a series that would follow how ordinary individuals in New Westminster would deal with this pandemic. This pandemic would surely be historic and we will all know how all the politicians and celebrities will deal, how about ordinary folks? The next day they called to say – why don’t you do it? We will provide equipment, teach you to edit film and give you total creative control. Now I may have been writing for a living for the last decade or so, but this was a whole new ball game. Knowing nothing about what this would entail, I thought it would distract during the pandemic and said yes. Zooming the Pandemic, my 8 part series that ran for a little over a year was born.

    In the process I learned to interview over Zoom as well as shoot a live interview, how to handle a video camera and to edit that video. I discovered how to plan out each episode and gradually got to the point where I felt pretty good about my end product. It definitely got me through the pandemic as I found I was always either planning the next episode or working on the last one. At the end of a year of this I felt I had said all I could say and ended my little pandemic project.

  4. A friend and I decided to walk every day throughout Steveston Village in Richmond. We both live in this delightful area and discovered there was much more to see than just the Fraser River. Each day at 2:15 we would meet up at Phoenix Pond and either walk east or west – whichever took our fancy that day. I always had my cell phone with me and from day one took pictures of a variety of different and interesting things we saw. Towards the end of the summer I decided I wanted to do more than just have all the pictures in my phone so went online and made a coffee table book – complete with explanations of what we saw. Two pictures stand out the most – one of a heron (there are a large number of these beautiful birds in the Steveston area). The first one we saw we named Hope. While standing on the small dock waiting for my friend, Hope happened to be standing on a log directly below me. I took her picture and imagine my surprise when I looked at the picture later to discover I had managed to capture her in full flight! What a magnificent wing span she had. The second picture was of an Asian woman playing an instrument I’d never heard or seen before. At first all we could hear was this beautiful music played very softly with the River gently lapping at the shore. Once we had rounded a curve in the boardwalk, there she was playing a Chinese Hulusii flute. While we haven’t been able to walk as much this year, I have been taking pictures and will produce another book this year.

  5. I treated the pandemic as a gift of time and wrote a memoir of my mother (“On the Cusp of Time” now published) and one of my father (“Home from Sea and Hill” in the works as we speak, coming out at Christmas). As an only child of older parents, I spent a lot of time listening to their stories: my mother as a British First World War volunteer overseas in the very first Women’s Army, and later an emigree to Canada; and my father who left home in Parry Sound to come west at the turn of the last century.

  6. Hi Jane:
    I thought I was over it. After three non-fiction books that sold moderately and three novels that plunged silently into the depths of Amazon’s pool of 20 million titles, the time to shutter my keyboard had come.
    The pandemic halted my travels at 99 countries and I had nothing to write about in the way of travel articles. So, four months into the pandemic I updated my book, Wide World of Cruising: that was hard work.
    Weeks later my fingers crawled to the keyboard and another White Rock novel takes shape: that’s fun. Love writing fiction. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

  7. I knew early on in the pandemic that Zoom bridge, book club and daily “ bookies” with my granddaughter were not enough of a challenge.
    That came in the form of a little Wallis upright piano purchased sight unseen after a light bulb moment while listening to familiar piano music. Delivered to our cottage , it looked much better than it sounded! But that was OK because I was so rusty after a 15 year hiatus from playing. Hours of practice , channeling the wise words of piano teachers, and a thorough piano tuning resulted in a joyful pandemic activity. Arthritic fingers and slower synapses don’t matter. I am still the classical piano geek I have always been and the pandemic allowed me to find her again.

  8. Early pandemic days I found myself sorting family photos. Realizing that our feminine family closets burst with garments that tied us to a personal memory – ordinary days, special days, and bleak days of WW2, I became inspired and so, at age 79 and with no artistic accomplishments, my pandemic project began.

    With a proper sketch pad, a good artist’s pencil, acrylic paint and a sparkly pen pleasing images emerged. My “sketch space” became my place of peace, transporting me to softer more colourful days, taking me away from the outside world with daily numbers of illness and death.

  9. My project last summer was a variation on the Ross’s: I set running routes taking me across every Metro Vancouver bridge crossing either salt water or the Fraser River (24 by my count). Each experience was distinct: from the structural elegance of the Port Mann, to the rickety grittiness of the Pattullo, the austere isolation of the Alex Fraser, and the simply functionality of the Deerling Island Bridge. Even if you’ve driven over a bridge a thousand times, a walk or run across it will offer new perspectives. It’s nice the pandemic has opened our eyes to such experiences.

  10. Jane,
    The imposed isolation of 2020 led to the training for and running of the TCS New York Marathon, virtually, on the new Okanagan rail trail between Kelowna and Vernon. In 2021, to celebrate turning 65 during the pandemic, and with “normal” still nowhere in sight, the plan morphed into running 100 km and completing a half-marathon each month, January to December. On track to complete that, despite rain, heat domes, fires, smoke and ice, the smartphone app, Strava, is keeping me honest. After years of world travel we’re now proud to celebrate Canada, our home!

  11. My COVID project is to limit myself to one bottle (355 ml) of shampoo for the entire year of 2021. I cracked it open on New Years Day. It feels like there is about 20% left in the bottle, so on track. A little dab’ll do ya! And no, I am not bald.

  12. 15 months ago many aspects of our life were locked down and closed. We were instructed to stay away from people and avoid crowds. My wife left the house once a week to go grocery shopping. Other than trips to the wine shop, I stayed home and away from others. I was looking for something to do and something with an exercise component. I realized I had several odd sizes of siding and scrap wood leaning against our garden shed. I took inventory and started building above ground planters in our backyard. It required a couple of trips to the building supply store for some hardware and half a dump truck of top soil deposited onto our driveway. My wheelbarrow had to be rebuilt as part of my project. A now outgrown sand box was increased in capacity and became a garden. I lined my not very good looking planters with green garbage bags to keep the moisture in the gardens. For exercise, I wheelbarrowed many loads of soil from our driveway around our house and into our new gardens. In went the seeds and potatoes together with a few flowers to brighten things up. Watering and weeding and talking to the plants in our hot dry summer was relaxing. Our isolation was softened by the construction and the exercise did me a world of good. Today we have harvested most of our “crops” but still have beets, potatoes (second crop) and onions to yet enjoy. Exercise, sun and learning how to grow or not grow a few things has been our project.

  13. My project involved windows…at home, in stores, through car windows and windows into history.

    We couldn’t reach friends/family physically during isolation. I borrowed an Internet project asking people to send pictures of what they saw through their windows during isolation. Our local and international friends and family sent us amazing pictures and we were suddenly closer. Next, still distancing, I planned a car club scavenger hunt that involved local history and also supported four businesses. Next, a photo album and diary for my grandnieces, hallmarking iconic Covid sights…line-ups with masks on, etc. Documenting living history.

  14. Thank you so much for the humour, the memories and the sheer delight you provide your readers each week. Yesterday was particularly interesting, and you will most likely receive many emails of fascinating and worthy pandemic projects from dedicated readers. Not me, though! I started a couple of family history projects and completed the simplest one earlier this year, while the second much larger project still sits, partly done and sadly ignored for now. It will take more than a pandemic for me to finish that one! I suspect if I read less I might accomplish more, but reading has been my salvation. Library E-books, purchased books (an inordinate amount), borrowed and traded books – while I prefer the feel and substance of a real book, I don’t discriminate.

  15. As to ‘watcha been doin’ during the pandemic – I’ve concentrated on filling in major gaps in my family history files. I joined three New Brunswick Facebook genealogy/family history websites, as my Mother was born and grew up in good old Jacquet River. Using such resources as Family Search and Find a Grave and postings by other members of the research groups – I’ve been able to establish contact with folks who knew my Mother ‘back when’… I also made contact with a number of New Brunswickers who are my cousins – distant or otherwise. They are numerous – much like fish stored in a ‘down home’ East Coast barrel. The other positive aspect – I’ve obtained photographs for some of the older members of the my particular Amiot-Firlotte family line that I had never seen before. In turn, I’ve been able to contribute a number of write-ups, copies of snapshots (with names and dates!!), obituaries, and so on, to the websites for others to share. It’s been fun….
    I also decided to research the life of Steamship Captain William Moore and his family. An adventurous, always on the go, sea-faring west coast businessman who was instrumental in purchasing land in Alaska, that became the site of the famous gold rush town of Skagway!! Here to, thanks to online resources, I now have a decent summary of his life and that of his children. Captain Moore and his wife Hendrika (‘Mary’) returned/retired to Victoria, Vancouver Island (ca. 1907), where they lived out the remainder of their lives. Unfortunately, they are buried in unmarked graves in the Ross Bay Cemetery. The Captain’s contribution is recognized substantially in Skagway – but not so much, here in British Columbia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *