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.

 

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

UVic students return from Hong Kong amidst growing tension

All eight University of Victoria exchange students have returned to Canada

ICBC, province urge residents to plan ahead for winter weather

Greater Victoria should gear up and have a plan in place

65-million-year-old triceratops makes its debut in Victoria

Dino Lab Inc. is excavating the fossilized remains of a 65-million-year-old dinosaur

Victoria residents face long holds for non-emergency police calls

Victoria police face challenges ‘on many fronts’ since switching to E-Comm call centre

VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Other words on the shortlist included ‘extinction,’ ‘climate denial’ and ‘eco-anxiety’

POLL: Do you plan on making any purchases on Black Friday?

We’ve all seen the images. Shoppers rioting outside of a store in… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Canucks erupt with 5 power-play goals in win over Nashville

Vancouver ends three-game slide with 6-3 triumph over Predators

Nanaimo man caught with more than 200,000 child porn images to be sentenced

Crown says Aaron Macrae recorded video of children on buses and at his workplace

Vancouver Island hunters may have harvested deer in area known for chronic wasting disease

Conservation officers make urgent request to public for any information

B.C. widow suing health authority after ‘untreatable’ superbug killed her husband

New Public Agency Health report puts Canadian death toll at 5,400 in 2018

Changes to B.C. building code address secondary suites, energy efficiency

Housing Minister Selina Robinson says the changes will help create more affordable housing

Most Read