It was the worst disaster the Yukon had ever known. The elite of the mining and transportation community, on board the Princess Sophia, were lost in the ice-cold waters of the Inside Passage, October 23, 1918.
The Princess Sophia left Skagway bound for Vancouver. The vessel, owned by the CPR, carried 294 passengers and a crew of 61. On board were many of the elite of the Dawson city mining society. More than 100 employees of the White Pass and Yukon Route, the crew members who had operated the Yukon River sternwheelers that summer, were onboard. It was the final sailing of the season for the Sophia. Captain Locke, a veteran of the Inside Passage, was in command.
At 2.05 a.m., during a blinding snow squall, the Sophia slammed into Vanderbilt Reef, a well charted rock in Lynn Canal north of Juneau. The crash lifted the large liner 8 feet out of the water. A hole 80 feet long was torn through the bottom. Captain Locke sent out an SOS and three large vessels and a number of small fishing boats came to the rescue. The Sophia was high and dry, and not taking water.
On the morning of October 24, the weather was clear and the seas calm. The CPR decided not to try and transfer passengers to the boats standing by. Instead, they would wait the arrival of the Princess Alice, a sister ship which left Vancouver on the evening of October 24th.
The Alice was 740 miles away. The weather remained relatively calm until the evening of October 25th, when a violent storm blew in, chasing away the rescue boats which had been standing by.
The Sophia slipped off Vanderbilt reef and was flooded with icy water. She went to the bottom in minutes. The only survivor was an English sheep dog who made it to shore and walked for two days to a village called Tee Harbour. When the storm lifted, and the rescue boats returned, they were confronted with a horrific site. Oil-covered bodies of 355 people, many of them Yukoners, were floating in the frigid water of Lynn Canal. Later investigation showed that the passengers could have been taken off the Sophia by the small boats standing by before the storm.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin