The bridge builder

Civil engineer Bill Kent’s remarkable life spanned the entire history of the University of Alberta.

Bill Kent (’31 BSc CivE). Illustration by Jordan Carson.

Bill Kent (’31 BSc CivE) was born Oct. 19, 1907, in Content, Alta., about 65 kilometres east of Red Deer. He showed an early talent for building things, and his mother decided to move the family to Edmonton so Kent could attend the University of Alberta and become an engineer.

When Kent began his engineering studies in 1925, the stand-alone Faculty of Engineering was only four years old, and only two students on campus had cars. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1931, just as the Great Depression was descending. Kent worked for the Alberta government as a surveyor for three summers before moving to Vancouver with his new wife Doris.

In 1936, Kent was hired as a civil engineer on the Lions Gate Bridge. He was involved in designing and pouring the anchor piers, and casting the famous concrete lions at the bridge’s south entrance. He was in the first car to travel across the bridge upon its completion in 1938.

Kent helped prevent a serious snag in the Lions Gate construction. He had taken a course in the relatively new soil mechanics area, and realized the anchors for the bridge were not being built properly. He convinced his supervisors to reduce the size of the anchor and change its shape, thereby saving the project a great deal of money and hassle.

Kent helped design projects in every province and territory in Canada, including the Churchill Falls Generating Station, the Canso Causeway, the Distant Early Warning Line and the Red River Canal around Winnipeg.

Kent’s life spanned the entire history of the University of Alberta, and until his death he was the university’s oldest living alumnus. He met the university’s first 12 presidents, including founding president Henry Marshall Tory, and was awarded the U of A’s Alumni Honour Award in 2009.

Bill Kent passed away Oct. 11, 2014, just days from what would have been his 107th birthday.


For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.

Originally published at ualberta.ca on October 17, 2014.