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Why Kelowna's first suspension bridge was only open for a year

The Kelowna Canyon and Scenic Granduer suspension bridge only stayed open for about a year.
Image Credit: Submitted/Old Kelowna, Lesley Park
January 23, 2021 - 8:00 AM

Pat McBride was looking for a business venture to start up when he moved to Kelowna in the 1960s.

So, after buying 100 acres of land from the Kirschner family that overlooked Mission Creek, he built a suspension bridge 300 feet above the sheer canyon walls in 1966.

It was about a year later when the wind tunnel effect of those sheer walls became the project’s downfall.

“It was a real hot day and I was in downtown Kelowna,” McBride told iNFOnews.ca. “That created a wind way up the canyon and it blew the bridge over.”

There were two brothers on the bridge at the time. One of them, about 20 years old, McBride recalls, fell to his death.

“When I went out there, the cables were twisted and the boards on the walkway, some came loose,” he said. “I could have fixed it but, it was hard to carry on after the kid got killed.”

There photos are from a brochure promoting the suspension bridge.
There photos are from a brochure promoting the suspension bridge.
Image Credit: Submitted/Regional District of Central Okanagan

He had an engineer come up from Vancouver to design and oversee the construction of the suspension bridge.

Concrete abutments were installed on both sides of the canyon and remain there to this day. A bulldozer was needed to pull the two-inch thick cable across the canyon.

Image Credit: Submitte/Old Kelowna, Julian Vicente

A brochure from the time instructs visitors to turn off Highway 97 at Richter Street then to follow the signs along KLO and McCulloch roads to the Kelowna Canyon and Scenic Grandeur location.

The brochure offers a free pass for one adult and car. The fee to go in was $3, McBride said.

Image Credit: Submitted/Regional District of Central Okanagan

“I had tourists coming out there like crazy,” he said. “A lot of people drove out there then realized they had to pay to get in. They turned around and went home again.”

There were also problems with people sneaking in to play on the bridge late at night, he added.

After the tragedy, McBride said he was sued but nothing came of the case. He later sold the Kirschner land for more than the $100,000 he paid for it so came out all right financially. He went on, he said, to build thousands of houses in the area.

McBride was not the only Kelowna suspension  bridge owner to suffer wind damage.

In 2015, a suspension bridge at Kelowna Mountain Resort, just outside the city boundaries in the South Mission, was damaged. While there were rumours of vandalism, the owners claimed it was a strong wind that had also caused extensive damage downtown.

READ MORE: Kelowna Mountain says wind, not vandals, destroyed suspension bridge

One of the suspension bridges at Kelowna Mountain was reportedly damaged by wind in 2015.
One of the suspension bridges at Kelowna Mountain was reportedly damaged by wind in 2015.
Image Credit: Contributed

Construction on the controversial Kelowna Mountain project started more than a decade ago amidst ongoing conflict and legal actions with the Regional District of Central Okanagan over work proceeding without approvals.

The Kelowna Mountain website says it is currently closed because of COVID-19. It touts the attractions of four suspension bridges at the resort, including the 800-foot long Water Bridge the owners claim is the longest suspension bridge in North America.

Last fall, resort owner Mark Consiglio said he was moving forward with plans to reopen the resort.

READ MORE: Kelowna Mountain developer says project will be 'moving forward'

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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