The Sinking

The Sinking

Sunken Mast
One of the rescue ships observes the last visible trace of the Princess Sophia, her cargo mast, on the morning of 26 October. The triangle between the two is the buoy used to mark the treacherous Vanderbilt Reef.


It was just a coffin boat, that’s all.”
– Walmis Newman, crew member of one of the Sophia’s rescue ships.1


Victoria Times Map 28 Oct 1918
On 28 October, the Victoria Times published a map of Lynn Canal. The caption reads: Chart of Lynn Canal, showing Vanderbilt Reef, where the Sophia struck and sank with the loss of 343 lives. The circle indicates the fatal reef.


On the night of 25 October 1918, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s SS Princess Sophia sank in the icy waters of Lynn Canal, taking all those aboard the ship down with her. The only survivor of the wreck was an oil-soaked dog. The following pages will trace the departure, grounding, and sinking of the Sophia. This wreck was the worst in the history of the Pacific West Coast, and had lasting impacts all along the coastline, from Skagway, Alaska, to San Diego, California. Aside from the tragedy’s impacts on individual families, the loss of so many workers also significantly impacted the economies of Alaska and the Yukon, which were already declining worrisomely. The sinking also spurred two court cases. The first was conducted before the Workmen’s Compensation Board on behalf of the crew members’ families, while the second was an American civil case that attempted to force the CPR into paying damages to passengers’ families.2 Though both were ultimately successful, the monetary winnings did little to make up for the loss of so many loved ones.

To begin the story of the Princess Sophia, click here.

1. British Columbia Archives, Daniel Leen Collection, Description Number: AAAB3663, Call Number: T3339:0001, Walmis Newman: A Lifetime On The Coast, Part 1.

2. Ken Coates and Bill Morrison, The Sinking of the Princess Sophia, 142.

The information on the following pages, unless otherwise noted, has been retold from Ken Coates and Bill Morrison’s groundbreaking book, The Sinking of the Princess Sophia: Taking the North Down With Her (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990).