A year and a half of hard work over the Detroit River culminated in a weekend of celebration for ironworkers on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project.  

On June 14, 2024, the final two edge girders connecting the two sides of the bridge deck were placed. The following day, over 200 members from Ironworkers 700 in Canada and Ironworkers Local 25 in the US gathered with operating engineers who they worked hand-in-hand with for a ceremony to mark the occasion, complete with a tradition you may not be familiar with involving an evergreen tree.  

In the construction industry, a “topping out tree” commemorates the final piece of structural steel connecting a project. The tree-topping ceremony is an important custom that dates back more than a thousand years. For ironworkers, they say it brings good luck and symbolizes a job well done. On the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, the evergreen tree was affixed to one of the last girders placed on the bridge deck. 

"The joining of the two sides of the Gordie Howe International Bridge is significant to both Local 25 and 700,” says Jason Roe, Business Manager – Financial Secretary/Treasurer, Ironworkers Local 700. “Many ironworkers dream of working on a large-scale bridge, but an international bridge of this size is even more significant. I am so proud of every member that has had a hand in building this iconic structure and made sure everyone got to go home at night to their families safe and sound. We look forward to the day the first people can walk or bike across the bridge and the first vehicle can drive across it.” 

Connecting the Gordie Howe International Bridge is a significant feat. Construction of the bridge deck over the Detroit River began in December 2022. 27 segments were built out from each tower before crews began work on the mid-span closure, the final connecting segment that involves a complex and intricate 13-step process focused on precision and safety.  

“I would like to thank every ironworker on both sides of the river that worked endless hours day after day to get us to this historical moment,” says Dennis Aguirre, President, Ironworkers Local 25. “For an ironworker, to be part of a project that will be around for a century, connects two countries and adds to our skyline for the world to see is what we strive for.” 

Handshake seen around the world  

The connection of the two sides of the bridge deck for the Gordie Howe International Bridge was marked with a handshake by a Canadian ironworker and a US ironworker. It was captured in a photo and video and has become an iconic image that symbolizes the cooperation involved in the construction of this once-in-a-generation project.  

Jason Huggett is a second-generation Canadian ironworker and was proud to represent Canada in this binational handshake.  

“I said it was about time we got to shake hands after seeing each other from a distance for almost two years, it was really something special,” says Huggett. “That handshake means a lot to my family, my two sons, and my father, who helped build the twin span for the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia.” 

Casey Whitson, a second-generation ironworker from Michigan, says the feeling was mutual and has the same pride in his role representing the US.  

“We would see each other, but we were far, across the river, apart for all these months working," adds Whitson. "To actually get to be able to meet each other and shake hands and say hello is really cool. It’s the biggest moment in my career and I now share something with my father, who helped build the Renaissance Center in Detroit.” 

Ironworkers on the Gordie Howe Bridge 

Ironworkers play a significant role in the project’s construction, having been involved from day one in making this bridge a reality. 

Ironworkers were crucial in the construction of the two iconic towers of the Gordie Howe International Bridge which required 4,500 metric tonnes/4,960 tons of steel rebar. Additionally, the bridge and road decks are built using steel edge girders, steel floor beams, steel redundancy girders and steel soffit and concrete panels and required a specific skillset provided by these individuals.  

Ironworkers were also involved in the installation of the 216 stay cables for the Gordie Howe International Bridge, as well as the work on both Ports of Entry in Canada and the US and the Michigan Interchange.