This isn’t a story about a bridge.
This story isn’t about the fact that the bridge was once notorious for having the second-highest suicide rate in North America. Or even that the bridge once averaged one death every 22 days.
This is a story about humanity – its failures, and its oversights.
Most importantly, this is a story about purpose. A case study on our reasons for existing on this planet.
The Prince Edward Viaduct, commonly referred to by locals as the Bloor Street Viaduct, is a bridge system connecting Bloor Street to Danforth Avenue in the south end of Toronto, Ontario.
In the late 1990s-early 2000s, only the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco had more recorded suicide deaths on the entire continent.
That quickly changed in 2003 when, after great financial burden and elaborate planning, the city of Toronto built a large wire structure around the outside of the bridge – an anti-suicide structure, if you will. They named this structure the Luminous Veil.
The Luminous Veil was a success. Or, at least it appeared to be. After all, it was no longer possible to jump from the viaduct into the traffic below. With the second most fatal bridge in North America rendered suicide-proof, the city of Toronto and its citizens breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The relief was temporary.
As it turns out, the very people that the Luminous Veil was constructed to protect were simply jumping off the next bridge down the road.
Near where I live there’s a viaduct, where people jump when they’re out of luck
Although principal songwriter, and former band member Steven Page has largely left the particular lyrics and title of the song open for individual interpretation, he provided a heartfelt introduction to the song during a 2004 concert in Birmingham, England.
“We wrote this song thinking about just how futile it seems sometimes to stop people from doing the darkest deeds for which they’ve already made up their minds” Page tells the crowd.
However, the song and its meaning to the band began to evolve over the process of writing, recording and performing the song.
“Since we’ve been singing this song since the record came out […] I’ve realized that the basis of everything I believe is that we’re here on earth to take care of each other. And we have to do what we can. We express this in our politics and in our religions, and in the songs we write and the way we take care of each other in our families and on the street.”
The emotion as he delivers his sermon on humanity is prevalent in his voice, which shakes and cracks throughout.
“I think the second we stop holding our arms out to catch people when they fall is the second we lose our humanity.”
As of 2010, a study conducted by the University of Toronto concluded that the city’s suicide rates remained largely the same as they did prior to 2003.
The Luminous Veil was a five-and-a-half million dollar venture – two-and-a-half million dollars taken directly from taxpayers. In other words, one very expensive Band-Aid.
Steven Page’s message is a reminder that at the core of each individual is a responsibility to take care of those around us. These messages are preached in our scripture, documented in our legislature, and sung in our music.
Looking out into the Don River Valley now, it’s easy to forget the bridge that once had the second-highest suicide rates in North America.
But after all, this isn’t a story about a bridge
This is a story about catching people when they fall.
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