A head stone was unveiled, there to commemorate the lives of William Peter Sr., 47, William Peter Jr., 17, and Roland Henry, 15, near the cemetery entrance at Memorial Crescent and May Street. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

A head stone was unveiled, there to commemorate the lives of William Peter Sr., 47, William Peter Jr., 17, and Roland Henry, 15, near the cemetery entrance at Memorial Crescent and May Street. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Headstone dedicated to family that died in largest maritime disaster in West Coast history

Friday marks the 101 anniversary of the sinking of SS Princess Sophia

Friday is the 101-year anniversary of the largest maritime disaster the West Coast has ever seen. On Oct. 25, 1918 the SS Princess Sophia, along with all 367 passengers on board, sank to the depths of the Lynn Canal north of Juneau, Alaska.

A group of about 20 people gathered in Ross Bay Cemetery on the morning of the anniversary, as the Maritime Museum dedicated an unmarked grave to the three members of the Smith family, who died in the wreck.

A head stone was unveiled, there to commemorate the lives of William Peter Sr., 47, William Peter Jr., 17, and Roland Henry, 15, near the cemetery entrance at Memorial Crescent and May Street.

The father and two sons had gone north for the first time, working on the SS Dawson. The two boys were deckhands, while their father was a fireman on the vessel.

“[This family set off] for a trip of a lifetime that ended up being their last,” says David Leverton, executive director of the Maritime Museum.

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

Twenty-one other people, who died in the shipwreck, are also buried in the cemetery along with memorial stones for two others whose bodies were never found.

The Smith family was returning to Victoria at the end of riverboat season. William Peter Sr. had ranched at Shawnigan prior to moving to Victoria, where he was employed as an engineer at the Union Club for many years. His eldest son, William Peter Jr. had gone overseas with the 103 Battalion when he was 15 years old, only to be sent back home when his real age was discovered.

Leverton has trouble trying to imagine the chaos that must have unfolded on the ship followed the crash into the Vanderbilt Reef. The SS Princess Sophia ended up leaving the port in Skagway, Alaska about three hours late, four hours later the ship hit the reef.

READ ALSO: Victoria’s Maritime Museum seeks national status in Bastion Square

“The sounds of the hull against the reef, the screaming steel, the speed in which the entire event happened, the actual sinking — it’s beyond words,” says Leverton.

The ship sat on the reef for 40 hours as rescuers tried to organize themselves in what would be deadly weather conditions. Thinking they would have better weather the next day, crews were sent home to rest up overnight only to have nothing to return to. Horrific winds, terrible storm conditions and even snow began to pummel the area.

“They basically had everything conspiring against them.”

The next morning, when the weather finally broke, crews returned to the SS Princess Sophia to find only the forward mast above the water. Lifeboats that had been launched in a effort to save some passengers, had no one alive on board — bodies were covered in a foot of snow.

It took months to retrieve the bodies of passengers and even still, some have never been found.

“These things can happen and when they do they ripple effect through so many people’s lives,” Leverton say, recognizing the importance of remembering those lost.

Last year during the 100th anniversary, the Maritime Museum dedicated another gravestone to William and Sarah O’Brien, along with their five children at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver.



kendra.crighton@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

 

A group of about 20 people gathered in Ross Bay Cemetery on the morning of the anniversary, as the Maritime Museum dedicated an unmarked grave to the three members of the Smith family, who died in the wreck. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

A group of about 20 people gathered in Ross Bay Cemetery on the morning of the anniversary, as the Maritime Museum dedicated an unmarked grave to the three members of the Smith family, who died in the wreck. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Just Posted

Eligible non-profit organizations and charities apply for support through North Saanich’s COVID-19 relief until Feb. 12.(Black Press Media file photo)
North Saanich lays out criteria for grants to non-profits

Eligible applicants can apply for an unlimited amount to help ease effects of COVID-19

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich repeals, reschedules two public hearings for consideration of new information

Move to hold public hearings for second time ‘very rare,’ mayor says

(File - Sooke News Mirror)
Man exposes himself to woman, children on Sooke trail

Suspect believed to be between 55 and 65 years of age

Patrick MacMullan won $28,000 playing Toto. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Greater Victoria man wins $28,000 while watching football

Winning ticket purchased at Colwood convenience store

(Pixabay photo)
Emergency sewer repairs underway on Phillips Road in Sooke

Sewage may have entered DeMamiel Creek and Sooke River

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

The District reopened access to the Sooke Potholes on Friday. (Contributed - Ashley Ensor)
Sooke Potholes reopen after storm

The park was closed on Wednesday after down power lines

Nursing staff at West Coast General Hospital celebrate the announcement of a $6.25-million expansion of the emergency department that will start in March 2021. (File photo)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Most Read