The Canadian Pacific's SS Princess Sophia

The Canadian Pacific's SS Princess Sophia sailed from Skagway, Alaska, at 22:10 on Wednesday 23rd October 1918.

At 02:00 the following morning she struck the Vanderbilt Reef at the southern entrance to the Lyn Canal.

353 people perished.

It was to be the Inside Passage's worst disaster.

Vancouver Maritime Museum Archives


Leaving Victoria for Vancouver with troops in 1915

British Columbia Archives & Records Service

Princess  Sophia was ordered in May of 1911 and built by  Bow, McLachlan & Company of Paisley Scotland. Her length was 245 ft. width 44 ft. and  was 2300 gt. with single screw triple expansion steam engine, and was launched Nov. 8, 1911 and  Christned by Miss Piers, daughter of Arthur Piers, manager of C.P. Steamship Service, at that time. She did 14 knots on her sea trials in early 1912, and sailed from Scotland  on February 19, 1912, arriving in Victoria three months later.

"Princess Sophia, was built for the Alaska run, and made her maiden voyage on June 7, 1912. She was not a fancy ship, her hull was short and had high freeboard, but she had comfortable accomodation for about  375 passengers in first and second class. She came to a tragic end after only seven years of service. Under the command of Capt. Louis P. Locke on October 24, 1918, at 3.00 a.m. during very bad weather southbound on the Lynn Canal AK, she ran aground on the Vanderbilt Reef.....

 She struck in almost the same place as the Princess May 8 years earlier, but with tragic results, all 269 passengers and 73 crew were lost. Rescue vessels stood by, but because of the heavy seas and the poor weather, they  were unable to abandon ship. She stayed up on the rocks all that day, but foundered and went down during the next night. "

Aground on the Vanderbilt reef, viewed from windward

1918 sinking of Princess Sophia - Southeast Alaska's worst maritime disaster.

THE JUNEAU EMPIRE..... In 1918, Southeast Alaska's worst maritime disaster touched Juneau. On Oct. 24, the Princess Sophia, a 245-foot Canadian ship southbound from Skagway, struck Vanderbilt Reef 30 miles north of town.

At first the ship merely seemed to be lodged on the rocks, and the captain hoped the next high tide would float it free. Several rescue ships waited overnight in the area. The following day, though, the weather worsened and forced the rescue ships to take shelter. At about 5 p.m., the Princess Sophia signaled,

"Taking water and foundering, for GOD's sake come and save us."

The last photograph.....

The storm prevented the only vessel that heard the message from approaching.

The next morning, Oct. 26, the rescue ships arrived to find only the top of the Princess Sophia's mast and rigging visible above the water. None of the 353 passengers survived. Many did not drown but instead were suffocated by bunker oil that coated the water.

Just the topmast showed above water

An oil-soaked English setter found at Tee Harbor was believed to be the only surviving creature from one of the worst maritime tragedies in the north.

Juneau and Douglas residents had the sad burden of recovering, cleaning and sending the victims' bodies home. Local businessmen organized and stored valuables to return to families. Only one local resident, Customs Collector John Fraser Pugh, died in the terrible tragedy, but many of the dead are buried in Evergreen Cemetery. They include Walter Harper, one of the first people to climb Mt. McKinley in 1913, and his wife Frances Wells Harper. Married only a month, the voyage on the Sophia was to be a combination honeymoon and trip south to join World War I efforts.

Shipwrecked off coast of Alaska
S.S. Princess Sophia
October 24, 1918
My own dear sweetheart,
I am writing this my dear girl while the boat is in grave danger. We struck a rock last night which threw many from their berths, women rushed out in their night attire, some were crying, some too weak to move, but the lifeboats were swung out in all readiness but owing to the storm would be madness to launch until there was no hope for the ship. Surrounding ships were notified by wireless and in three hours the first steamer came, but cannot get near owing to the storm raging and the reef which we are on. There are now seven ships near. When the tide went down, two-thirds of the boat was high and dry. We are expecting the lights to go out at any minute, also the fires. The boat might go to pieces, for the force of the waves are terrible, making awful noises on the side of the boat, which has quite a list to port. No one is allowed to sleep, but believe me dear Dorrie it might have been much worse. Just hear there is a big steamer coming. We struck the reef in a terrible snowstorm. There is a big buoy near marking the danger but the captain was to port instead of to starboard of the buoy. I made my will this morning, leaving everything to you, my own true love and I want you to give 100 to my dear Mother, 100 to my dear Dad, 100 to dear wee Jack, and the balance of my estate (about 300) to you, Dorrie dear. The Eagle Lodge will take care of my remains.
In danger at Sea.
Princess Sophia
24th October 1918

To whom it may concern:
Should anything happen to me, notify Eagle Lodge, Dawson. My insurance, finances, and property, I leave to my wife (who was to be) Miss Dorothy Burgess, 37 Smart St., Longsight, Manchester, England.
J. Maskell



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