One of the worst sea disasters on the Pacific coast took place on October 25, 1918. The Canadian Pacific Steamship Sophia left Skagway, Alaska, bound for Victoria and Vancouver. On board were 343 people “going outside” for the winter. Some of them were characters from Klondike gold rush days, and they formed a happy crowd of travellers. They gathered in the Sophia‘s lounge to sing the old dance hall songs and listen to the stories of William Scouse of Seattle, who had hoisted the first bucket of gold at Eldorado Creek twenty years earlier.
The ship was commanded by Captain Louis P. Locke, formerly of Nova Scotia. As the Sophia steamed through the night, it suddenly struck a hidden rock known as Vanderbilt Reef. The ship did not sink, but was listing badly. Captain Locke sent out an S.O.S. which brought the U.S. steamer Cedar and a number of small boats to the Sophia’s assistance during the day. Unfortunately the wind was gale force and it was impossible to take off the passengers; so the captain of the Cedar decided to stand by until the wind moderated. The passengers were brave, and as happy as possible under the circumstances. They continued their songs around the piano, defying the storm and their thoughts of dying.
Suddenly, about five o’clock in the afternoon, Sophia began to founder. Captain Locke sent out a wireless signal: “For God’s sake, come and save us.” Cedar tried to come close but could not make it because of the high seas and a snowstorm that reduced visibility to nil.
The last that was heard from Sophia was a wireless message: “Just in time to say goodbye. We are foundering.” All the passengers and crew, 343 in all, were lost. When the bodies were recovered many of them were carrying valuables. One black woman had $80,000 in bills sewn into her clothing. Another victim was carrying $40,000. Several had gold dust with them, while another woman was carrying diamonds and rubies in a bag tied to her neck. The only survivor was a brown and white English setter that somehow swam to shore. It came into Tec Harbour two days later, its coat greasy with oil.
To read more about this tragedy, I suggest going to Find-a-Grave for a list and a few words for each of the passengers, and then Doctor Grumpy in the House blog, and then Atropedia – a new site I just found that is a global accident database. The Stories in the News has a comprehensive article. Finally I suggest reading a two-page .PDF Mountain View Cemetery for interesting reading.