The SS Princess Sophia, before her tragic end. (Alaska State Library, Sadlier-Olsen Family Collection)

Maritime Museum marks 100th anniversary of the ‘Unknown Titanic of the West Coast’

Sinking of SS Princess Sophia considered worst maritime accident in history of Pacific Northwest

One hundred years after the tragic sinking of Victoria’s SS Princess Sophia, the Maritime Museum of BC and family members of those that went down with the ship, came together to commemorate the largest marine tragedy in the history of the Pacific Northwest.

As the second-to-last ship to leave Skagway, Alaska, before the winter settled in, Sophia departed for her home port of Victoria late in the evening Oct. 23, 1918, three hours behind schedule.

The ship was packed to the gunwales with letters to loved ones serving in WWI, Christmas presents and goods for friends and family in southern B.C. and over 350 crew members and passengers.

Within an hour, heavy snow and fog dropped visibility to zero, with strong winds blowing the ship dangerously off course.

At 2 a.m. the following morning, Sophia hit Vanderbilt Reef – a rock that lurks just below the surface of Lynn Canal – head-on. While the ship escaped immediate damage, the raging seas beat Sophia’s hull against the rocks for the next 40 hours as the passengers awaited rescue.

Though seven vessels were dispatched to help, Sophia’s Captain Leonard Locke, made the fatal decision to wait for the storm to die down before transferring passengers, feeling it was unsafe to do so in such stormy seas.

All rescue vessels were eventually forced to retreat back to the shoreline, leaving Sophia defenceless and alone in the blinding snowstorm.

Between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on Oct. 25, Sophia sank, taking all passengers and crew with her. There were no survivors except for a lone dog that swam to a nearby island.

An estimated 367 passengers and crew perished, including many political and business leaders and 10 per cent of Dawson City’s population.

To this day, it remains the largest marine tragedy in the history of the Pacific Northwest.

The timing of the disaster had the vessel dubbed the “Unknown Titanic of the West Coast,” the museum’s volunteer librarian Judy Thompson explained. The delivery of the bodies to Vancouver occurred on Nov.10, a day before armistice ended WWI. The news and celebration from the ending of the war took over, burying the disaster in history.

RELATED: Maritime Museum of B.C. brings sinking ship back to life in Victoria

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking, the Maritime Museum of BC unveiled a commemorative plaque during a ceremony Thursday, that will be permanently installed in the Parade of Ships Memorial Wall in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Relatives of some of the passengers who died attended the ceremony and shared stories of the impact the tragic event had on their families.

Three great-nieces of John Zaccarelli, one of the passengers on Sophia, were present for the event. Charlaine Pears, Zuzanne Zaccarelli, and Janice Booth, said Zaccarelli was travelling with his sister Marie Vifquain and her young daughter Charlotte Joy when the ship went down.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, their partners, who were not on the ship, came together in grief.

“They eventually married. Probably out of their sorrow they found some joy,” said Janice Booth, who took a cruise to Alaska and threw flowers into the water while passing Lynn Canal, in remembrance of her aunt, uncle and cousin. “I was quite emotional at the time knowing that some relatives of mine had passed away at that site.”

For more information visit PrincessSophia.org.


 

keri.coles@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pandemic reunites 2000s era Victoria rock band The Origin

Saanich musicians recording for first time since 2008

Local authors nominated for Victoria Book Prize awards

Finalists for 2020 announced in two categories

Patrick brothers who shaped modern hockey also tried, but failed, to remove violence

New history thesis shows efforts to sell a “clean game” in Oak Bay

Central Saanich to formally inform Agricultural Land Commission about soccer pitch proposal

Move is meant for information only with no application having come forward yet

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

POLL: Do you plan on allowing your children to go trick or treating this year?

This popular annual social time will look quite different this year due to COVID-19

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Body discovered floating in water near Lasqueti Island

JRCC reports personnel aboard fishing vessel made the find

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Most Read