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)

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Stelly’s grads shocked after ‘anonymous friend’ pays for dinner

Friends took limo to Deep Cove Chalet to celebrate after graduation festivities cancelled

Victoria man in custody after shooting in 100-block of Gorge Road East

The man is facing recommended charges including assault with a weapon

Undercover operation exposes prominent human trafficking problem in Greater Victoria

VicPD’s Operation No More took place in mid-June at a local hotel

Book stores in Victoria notice uptick in sales for anti-racism titles

White Fragility, How to be an Antiracist are among the best selling titles

Langford approves permit for 124-unit mass timber building

Tallwood 1 to be completed by late 2021

‘This year is unlike any other’: Trudeau delivers Canada day address

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and the Prime Minister release video celebrating the national holiday

Undercover operation exposes prominent human trafficking problem in Greater Victoria

VicPD’s Operation No More took place in mid-June at a local hotel

Tsilhqot’in Nation demands meeting with feds on declining Fraser River chinook stocks

The Nation wants to partner with DFO to rebuild and recover the stocks

Gov. General honours Canadians for bravery, volunteer service

Five categories of winners presented on Canada Day

COVID-19: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

New poll shows Canadians are divided on the rules around mandatory masks

‘A little bit scary for everybody’: Air passengers wary as new rules take effect

Masks or face coverings have been mandatory on flights since April 20

Library’s Summer Reading Club goes virtual

This literacy program is usually offered in person

VIDEO: Prince William and Kate chat with B.C. hospital staff about COVID-19

Seven-minute video posted to Youtube on Canada Day

Most Read