Historic Centre Street Bridge lion sculpture welcomed to Rotary Park

A meaningful tribute to our city’s past, one of the original lion sculptures by James Thomson that adorned the Centre Street Bridge from 1917 to 1999 now sits atop a bluff in Rotary Park, overlooking the bridge that it first called home.

The City has now completed the conservation of the century-old lion sculpture and worked with the community to display it in a new and accessible space for future generations of Calgarians to enjoy. The design and construction work on the new location in Rotary Park was completed by local companies and includes a concrete base, pathway improvements, a seating wall and soft landscaping.

“It’s a lovely space for Calgarians to enjoy” says Jennifer Thompson, leader, public art. “We hope members of the community will come out to welcome the lion back to the area and pay tribute to this important cultural and historical artifact.”

Part of Alberta Culture Days, a community celebration to welcome the Centre Street Bridge lion to its new location will be held on Saturday, September 29th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m​. The event will feature family-friendly activities, music by the Rotary Park band, face painting, a tour from Harry the Historian, and a lion dance presented by the Chinatown community.

The City worked with experts from many fields to provide the technical expertise to move, repair and re-install the lion safely for the public to enjoy, ensuring the preservation of its structural integrity. These experts included structural engineers, heritage architects, art conservators, material specialists and industrial rigging and moving experts.

Repair efforts primarily focused on stabilizing the lion for installation in the public realm in a way that celebrates its age. With a goal to honour its heritage, emphasis was on preserving, conserving and repairing the lion, not on fully restoring it.

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Background information

Created in 1916-17 by James L. Thomson, a stonemason and employee of The City, each lion and plinth measures 11 feet in length, 6 feet wide, 7 feet high, and weigh 22,000 lbs.

Each lion was cast in five sections: one for the head, two for the front of the body and two for the rear of the body. There is no steel armature or frame inside. Instead each section was connected by 1 inch wide joints and filled with mortar. The concrete was reinforced with twisted square rebar. The lion’s body and the central section of the plinth below the body are hollow.

In 1999 the Centre Street Bridge was closed for major renovations. The lions were removed and an assessment determined that the lions were not suitable for reinstallation on the bridge.

The first lion to be restored was used to create the mold for the lions that are currently on the Centre Street Bridge, and remains on display in front of the Municipal Building. Three original lions have been in storage since they came off the bridge in 1999.

After assessing the condition of the three lions, we decided to begin with the one that is in the best condition to see how it fares before tackling the other two which are in markedly worse condition.

Because of their historical significance, The City of Calgary is committed to implementing the most appropriate plan for the future of the remaining Centre Street Bridge lions.