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THE SINKING OF THE PRINCESS SOPHIA

Coates, Ken and Bill Morrison
Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1990. 224pp, paper, $16.95, ISBN 0-19-540784-9. CIP


Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Adele Case

Volume 18 Number 5
1990 September


The Sinking of the Princess Sophia tells of the tragic end of one of the Canadian owned ships active between British Columbia and Alaska in the decades following the gold rushes. As Coates and Morrison emphasize, the foundering and loss of the CPR passenger liner was devastating not only because there were no survivors but also because it destroyed confidence for years after. Many community leaders in the northern settlements were lost, no memorial fund was launched, and even today there is nothing to mark the disaster in the cities of the northwest.

The Princess Sophia left Skagway at 10:10 pm on October 23rd, 1918, and at full power crashed on to Vanderbilt Reef at 2:00 am on the 24th. A number of rescue boats were called out from nearby ports, and these circled anxiously around the stricken ship while the captain pondered the wisdom of attempting to offload passengers into the choppy waters of Lynn Canal. Sadly, the ship was thought to be safely wedged on the reef, so Captain Locke judged it would be prudent to wait for a break in the weather before chancing removal of any on board to the rescue craft. The Sophia lay inert on the reef for a day and a half, and then as a storm brewed and worsened in the canal, the waiting ships had to scurry to shelter. The ship gave a warning call for help, and was not heard from again. Next morning, rescue ships were shocked to see no sign of the passenger vessel only a part of the mast was visible above the icy cold waters of the canal.

The book explores the past of many of the passengers: businessmen, civil servants, miners, prospectors and entrepreneurs, together with a number of their wives and children. Dawson alone lost eight to ten per cent of its population, and the sinking of the ship caused a trauma through the whole of the northland.

The marine aspects of the accident could have been expanded. Information on late autumn wind and sea strengths would give dearer indication of the potential for accidents in this challenging portion of the coast. An improved chart, giving depths around the reef, as well as a general arrangement of the interior of the vessel, would have interested those who want data on steamships of this time.

For all who are interested in the history of the northwest, this book will be a valuable addition to the maritime history of Canada and the United States.


Adele Case, Britannia Secondary School, Vancouver, B.C.

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