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S.S. Sophia Sinks

The Canadian Pacific Steamer Princess Sophia on Vanderbilt Reef in the Lyn Canal near Juneau, Alaska

The Canadian Pacific Steamer Princess Sophia on Vanderbilt Reef in the Lyn Canal near Juneau, Alaska

Disaster Strikes…

Shortly after the Princess Sophia left Skagway, a terrible snowstorm blew in, reducing visibility. Navigation through the icy waters of the Lynn Canal was difficult in stormy weather; typically a bearing would be taken from a known point and those calculations would be used to guide the steamer around Vanderbilt Reef.

The Princess Sophia was steaming along at cruising speed at a few minutes past 2:00 a.m. on October 24 when she ran aground at the center of Vanderbilt Reef. The captain alerted the Canadian Pacific office in Juneau, 20 miles to the south, requesting assistance.

The Canadian Pacific agent was surprised by the message from the Princess Sophia, as the weather in Juneau was calm with light snow. Since there were no steamers available to answer the distress call, the Canadian Pacific agent organized many small boats from Juneau to remove passengers from the stricken vessel.

Last Trace of the Steamer  Princess SophiaThe Captain of the Princess Sophia prepared the lifeboats for evacuation of passengers, but the gale force winds and rough seas, made it impossible. Passengers aboard the Princess Sophia waited patiently and hoped other boats could eventually save them.

Bad weather prevented the small boats sent out of Juneau from getting close to the Princess Sophia to unload passengers. The Captain believed that when high tide returned it would life the steamer free of the reef.

In the early evening hours of October 25, the Princess Sophia slipped off Vanderbilt Reef and sank. All aboard were lost, 278 passengers and 65 crew. In total, 343 men, women and children perished. All that was visible of the Princess Sophia was the mast, and the only survivor of this tragedy was a small dog which swam to a nearby Island.

“STEAMER SOPHIA IS SUNK IN CANAL” was the headline in the Dawson Daily News on Saturday, October 26, 1918. This tragedy was quickly dropped from newspaper headlines as the ending of the First World War took centre stage.

The Princess Sophia tragedy had incredible impact on the community of Dawson City as many local professionals and business people were aboard the ill-fated steamer.

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