In the afternoon of July 28, 1885, the Enterprise, a sidewheel paddle steamer carrying freight, livestock and passengers from New Westminster to Victoria, collided with another steamboat near Ten Mile Point.
Passengers and crew on the Enterprise panicked and jumped overboard to save themselves when the vessel’s lifeboats weren’t deployed. The two people who died were believed to have locked themselves in a cabin to save the large sums of money they held.
A third steamer towed the Enterprise into Cadboro Bay, where it was visible in shallow waters until the early 1900s.
Jacques Marc, explorations director of the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia, began piecing together the tale of the Enterprise in 1987. Its existence is well-documented in historical records, but the wreck itself is yet to be found.
“The Enterprise is a mystery,” said Marc, noting the society’s ongoing efforts to locate the wreck over the years. “I’ve gone out and dug holes in Cadboro Bay. …We’ve searched for it numerous times and side scanned and found nothing – but it’s there. We’ve got pictures of it sitting about 100 yards off shore.”
In two searches, items were found but they were determined to be remnants of wharfs. Yet the existence of coal, the boat’s fuel source, scattered near the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, suggest the Enterprise isn’t far away.
“So far it’s eluded us and I don’t quite know why,” Marc said.
Disruption of the site by log booms and deterioration are two possible explanations for why the wreck has yet to be located. Adding to the difficulty, the engines were salvaged, so crews are no longer able to search for some of the bigger objects, including using modern methods, such as sonar, explained Marc.
“What we’re looking for is a scattering of small artefacts in a pretty big bay.”
The Enterprise is one of about 200 large vessel shipwrecks – both located sites and those which continue to elude local explorers – off the coast of Vancouver Island.
On April 25, Marc will take part in the Maritime Museum of B.C.’s What Lies Beneath lecture series. The veteran diver will present an overview of local shipwrecks and the modern technologies used to locate them during Discovering the Underwater Heritage of British Columbia at the museum, located in Bastion Square. Tickets are available at the door for the 6:30 p.m. talk, which costs $12 (or $10 for seniors and students). The event is free for museum members and children under 12.
The lost Enterprise
• In 1862, the roughly 43-metre-long steamboat was authorized to carry 16 crew and 150 passengers, yet typically carried a load of 250 passengers, 60 tons of freight, nine cattle and 23 pack animals between Victoria and New Westminster