Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Workday Wednesday: The Bridge Accident

My grandfather Fred Belair was a steel worker for the Dominion Bridge Company in the 1920s and early 1930s. While working on the new bridge in Montreal, Quebec in the afternoon of 5 August 1929, he was “struck by [an iron] beam which fell on him”. He sustained a “fractured right thigh and open fracture of the leg”. [1]

His accident was reported in at least two Montreal newspapers: in English in The Gazette and in French in La Presse [2]. Both articles misspelled his surname (Blair instead of Belair).

The Montreal Gazette newspaper clipping
The Gazette (6 August 1929)
La Presse Montreal newspaper clipping
La Presse (6 August 1929)

This new bridge must have been Montreal Harbour Bridge (renamed Jacques Cartier Bridge in 1934) that Dominion Bridge constructed between 1925 and 1930. [3]

Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal in 1936
S.S. "Duchess of Richmond" passing under Montreal Harbour Bridge, Montreal, P.Q. (1936)*

* Photo credit: Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA-044424.

The accident was serious enough to keep my Pépère Fred in Notre-Dame hospital for a few weeks. I wonder how my grandmother Julie coped during his hospitalization? Not only did she have their two year old son Maurice (my father) to care for, she  was also eight months pregnant.

Fred was still in Notre-Dame when Julie gave birth there to a baby girl (my Aunt Joan) on September 1st. How was life for their little family once Fred and Julie were back at home? Did my grandfather return to work or did he lose his job because of his enforced absence from the Dominion Bridge Company? How did they manage to pay their hospital bills? Did neighbors help my grandmother care for her newborn and toddler? (As far as I know, they didn't have relatives living with them in Montreal.)

I don’t know if or what kind of operation my grandfather might have needed during his hospital stay. Come to think of it, I also don’t know who cared for my Dad while both his parents were in hospital. Somehow those details were never brought up in any of the conversations I had about this subject with my grandfather, my Dad or my Aunt.

One thing I do know, though, is that my grandfather Fred was left with a slightly shorter leg and walked with a bit of a limp.


1. “Bridge Worker Hurt”, The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), 6 August 1929, p. 5, col. 5; digital images, Google News Archive ( : accessed 4 May 2011).

2. “Accident au nouveau pont de Montréal”, undated clipping, ca August 1929, La Presse, Montreal, Quebec; privately held by Joan (Belair) Laneville, 2014. Joan, who was Fred’s elder daughter, allowed her niece Yvonne (Belair) Demoskoff to scan the image while visiting her home in May 2014.

3. Wikipedia contributors, "Jacques Cartier Bridge", Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia ( : accessed 4 August 2014).

Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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