Canadian Consulting Engineer

CCE’s Top 10 Under 40: David Ellis

August 28, 2023
By Peter Saunders

He leads a team of bridge engineers, technologists and site inspectors.

David Ellis

Photo courtesy McElhanney.

This year, for the second time, Canadian Consulting Engineer launched an initiative to recognize up-and-coming consulting engineers across the country. We are now showcasing them on our website, in alphabetical order by surname.

David Ellis, 35, is structural division manager for McElhanney, based in Victoria. He leads a team of 20 bridge engineers, technologists and site inspectors.

Ellis has a long history in his area of specialization. He recalls building bridges out of dry spaghetti noodles and glue as a child growing up in Ottawa, an experience that taught him about load paths and the need for stronger columns at the base of a structure. At 16, he joined the Canadian Army Reserves in a combat engineer regiment that built modular bridges. And when he began studying civil engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., a newly added course handily introduced him to the workings of the Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code.

“After graduation, what was most instrumental to getting me into this specialized field—and where I am today—was joining Kiewit as an operations engineer on the Port Mann Bridge project,” he says. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that really pushed me in the direction of bridges. It brought me out to British Columbia and I ended up staying out here forever!”

Ellis moved on to Associated Engineering (AE) in 2012 and McElhanney in 2017. He was promoted to his current role in 2020 and continues to see significant demand for his team’s work, particularly in structural improvements to existing bridges.

“In B.C., as across much of Canada, we’ve got quite a large aging inventory,” he says. “A lot of our structural assignments are spent doing analyses to prolong the life of these structures. It’s also a chance to address other deficiencies. All of these structures built in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s weren’t designed for the types of earthquake loading we know they can experience nowadays, so seismic retrofitting of existing bridges represents a relatively large percentage of our work. It’s not efficient—or needed—to replace every single old bridge. Extending the remaining service life of existing bridges often provides the highest value for taxpayer dollars.”


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