Gardiner concrete and Elliot Lake mall collapse raise questions about Canada’s structural safety

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

It could have been so much worse.

At 10:30 this morning, a concrete chunk of the Gardiner Expressway — Toronto's crumbling highway at the foot of the city — made contact with a commuter vehicle.

Lawyer John Pandell had just exited the Gardiner off-ramp at Yonge St. when he felt something smash into his black Mercedes.

"It was like a bullet, an explosion. I felt scared," he told the Toronto Star. "It really startled me, so I just pulled over."

Thankfully, the falling concrete only resulted in two small dents — one near the driver's side windshield and another near the trunk. Pandell walked away shaken but unscathed.

Chunks of loose concrete along the 60-year-old expressway have been falling at an increasingly rapid rate since early last month.

So far, no one has been injured.

So far.

Over in Elliot Lake, the same cannot be said.

One person has been confirmed dead in this weekend's horrifying mall roof collapse.

The Daily Brew noted that the Algo Centre Mall, a popular shopping centre in the northern Ontario town, looked like a "scene from a war film" after metal and concrete crashed down on unsuspecting shoppers, injuring 22 and trapping two people under the rubble.

Crews are working to stabilize parts of the wreckage before they try to reach several people still missing in the aftermath.

Aging infrastructure and weather damage is being blamed for both the Elliot Lake disaster and the Gardiner Expressway crumble.

Mall patron Jean-Marc Hayward told the Globe and Mail this tragedy was only a matter of time.

"The mall's always had leaks (and) roof damage," he said.

"There's a spot near the food court where there (was) a hole in the ceiling and you could see the beams and they're all rusted."

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These are just the two most examples in a spate of dodgy Canadian structures.

In 2010, pedestrians along the jam-packed Yonge and Gould St. corridor stood horrified as the wall of an old building cascaded onto the street.

And while old age can't be blamed in this case, patrons who attended the opening day ceremony of a Burnaby, B.C. supermarket in 1998 will likely remember how it collapsed mere minutes after the festivities began. Twenty people sustained injuries in the melee.

Though John Bryson, a manager of Toronto's structures and expressways, said the Gardiner is structurally sound and in good shape, he told the Star that the city is mulling over the idea of hiring an outside contractor to speed up the annual maintenance process.

First target: areas under the Gardiner that feature pedestrian sidewalks.

The question is, how many Elliot Lakes or Gardiner near-misses will be required before more drastic structural safety measures are taken?