Calgary’s long awaited, and often controversial, Peace Bridge was opened to the public Saturday afternoon.

More than 1,000 people showed up to mark the occasion —16 months after it was originally scheduled to open.

The party began at 2 p.m. MT at the south end of the bridge with a blessing from a Blackfoot elder and included poetry, a Chinese lion dance, a veterans' parade and music from local entertainers.

The 130-metre helix-like bridge spans the Bow River, connecting the neighbourhoods of Eau Claire and Hillhurst-Sunnyside.

  • September 2008: Council approves funds to build the Peace Bridge
  • November 2009: Peace Bridge construction begins with a completion goal of fall 2010
  • September 2010: First delay is announced, city reveals new target date of June 2011
  • April 2011: Welding inspection leads to another delay, new target date end of 2011
  • December 2011: Construction delays prompts third target date in early 2012
  • February 14, 2012: City says Peace Bridge will open March 24
  • March 24, 2012: Bridge opens to the public

At the ceremony, Mayor Naheed Nenshi thanked former Calgary mayor Dave Bronconnier for his vision of the bridge, which was originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2010.

si-bridge-inside

The $24.5-million pedestrian bridge that spans the Bow River opened to the public Saturday afternoon. (Falice Chin/CBC)

Nenshi called the structure "a feat of architecture and beauty."

The celebration comes on the heel of tremendous criticism over its unusual design, hefty price tag and a litany of delays.

"We should really celebrate the opening of what is — whether or not you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, no matter where you stand on the controversy — an iconic and important piece, an indelible piece, to Calgary’s landscape," said Nenshi at the event.

The $24.5 million, 85-ton, red steel bridge was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Calatrava’s son Micael was at the event. He said he thought it was funny that so many people compared the bridge to a Chinese finger trap.

"One could see it that way," said Calatrava.

"I love that idea. Especially with the Chinese finger traps, some of them have different colours, and this one has a little bit of red and a little bit of white, the white being from the glass."

Liz Seale was with a group of 45 cyclists from the Elbow Valley Cycle Club who participated in the first march.

"I think there's been enough grumbling about it now. Now it's time to just enjoy it. I think it's going to be fun to go across it. It's a beautiful bridge."

Weigh in on our online poll and see what people were saying on Twitter by searching #celebridge.