Twenty years ago, four inches of ice covered the Jacques Cartier Bridge and Champlain Bridge

5 January 2018

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ice storm that hit Quebec in 1998. The crisis affected over 600 municipalities, plunged 3.5 million people into darkness, and had a major impact on our infrastructure and bridges.

A few days after the storm started, weather conditions forced The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) to begin emergency icebreaking operations on the Jacques Cartier Bridge and Champlain Bridge and to close these corridors to the South Shore for three days.

When Glen P. Carlin, JCCBI’s Chief Executive Officer, thinks back to this time, he remembers not only how this event marked him but also how the Corporation’s 15 maintenance employees were heavily involved in the icebreaking operations under very dangerous conditions. “At the height of the crisis, our teams were working in 12-hour shifts. Most of us slept at the Maintenance Centre on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which we had transformed into our emergency headquarters to manage this unprecedented crisis,” explained Mr. Carlin. “Everything was closed during the ice storm crisis, so getting water, coffee and food was a big challenge,” he added.

Many techniques were tested to remove the four inches of ice that had accumulated on the bridges. “We tried jack hammers, but this method wasn’t fast enough. So I suggested that we attach vibrating plates to a backhoe to literally shake the ice off the bridge,” said Mr. Carlin. “This innovative solution worked and helped us quickly and safely deice the two bridges.”

To speed up the deicing process, JCCBI requested assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Ville de Montréal’s fire department. “Despite the electricity, equipment, material, and labour constraints, we worked around the clock for three days straight and met every challenge in our way to ensure user safety,” said Mr. Carlin.