The last survivor of the Second Narrows Bridge collapse symbolically passed the torch of remembrance to a new generation at a small ceremony on Wednesday.
Lucien “Lou” Lessard, a 91-year-old Langley man, was 29 when he plunged into Burrard Inlet on June 17, 1958.
The collapse of the bridge killed 18 workers, and a rescue diver would also perish later, trying to recover the bodies. Dozens more men were injured, many seriously.
Lessard, who had fallen 150 feet, suffered a shattered left femur, a broken arm, cuts, and bruises. He considers himself lucky, however, as he fell in an area clear of wreckage, so beams and steel didn’t land on top of him.
Plunged all the way to the bottom of the inlet, Lessard pushed up with his unbroken leg when he saw a small sliver of sunlight above him.
When the Second Narrows Bridge was rebuilt, it was named the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in honour of the men who had died.
Every year since then, Lessard has been back for some form of memorial, starting the year after the tragedy.
“That’s a promise I made the year after the accident,” Lessard told the Langley Advance Times.
He and other survivors had supper together, and they vowed to commemorate the event, and “not to forget our brothers who lost their lives that day.”
Lessard is now the last survivor among those who fell into the inlet that day.
This year’s ceremony was quite small, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with just a few people in attendance, compared to 200 to 300 in recent years.
To keep his pledge to his lost brothers, Lessard has passed along the responsibility of remembrance.
“Yesterday, because I’m probably at the end of my life… I passed the torch to an ironworker’s apprentice.”
The young woman will pass the story down to future apprentice ironworkers as well, to keep it alive, Lessard said.
Last year, the 91-year-old spoke about what he saw the day he swam to the surface after the bridge collapse.
“I could see all sorts of men screaming and crying for their life,” he said, noting others were buried under steel, and more floating dead on the surface.
Lessard just kept thinking he needed to survive – he had a young child at home depending on him.
He cast around with his one usable arm for some broken pieces of wood.
“I grabbed a couple planks and saved myself and when I looked around, I see what has happened, with all those guys there, bleeding, getting hurt, bodies floating on the water, and the whole bridge down, partly underneath the water.”
He’s not sure how long he was floating amid the debris and carnage, but at some point he was picked up by a boat and taken to the dock where off-duty firefighters jumped to his aid.
They hoisted him on a stretcher, loaded him in the back of their pickup truck, and raced him to the Lions Gate Hospital.
Lessard slowly recovered, and even returned to work on the bridge several months later.