Shipwrecks near Oak Bay

From the pages of the Colonist, thanks to the University of Victoria Digital Collections’ searchable The British Colonist Online Edition 1858-1920 and to Leona Taylor and Dorothy Mindenhall’s Index to Historical Victoria Newspapers.

The Trial Islands were long a mariner’s bane — beset with shoals and reefs in a nasty stretch of water frequented by treacherous tidal rips, combers (long curling waves) and standing waves (formed when wind blows against the current).

Trial Islands, nearly 1¾ miles eastward of Clover Point, on the southern side of Enterprise Channel, are two in number, bare and rocky, but generally appear as one. The southern or largest island is 80 feet high, and steep-to at its outer end; the northern one is low, and from it foul ground extends some distance. Strong tide rips prevail off the southern island, especially during the flood, which runs nearly 6 knots at springs just outside it.

The Coast of British Columbia. Compiled by R. C. Ray, U. S. Navy. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891. @ p. 69. Courtesy Googlebooks.

Haro and Rosario Straits, surveyed by Captn. G. H. Richards & The Officers of H. M. S. Plumper, 1858-9, detail showing the waters off Oak Bay. Courtesy Washington State University Libraries Digital Collections.
Haro and Rosario Straits, surveyed by Captn. G. H. Richards & The Officers of H. M. S. Plumper, 1858-9, detail showing the waters off Oak Bay. Courtesy Washington State University Libraries Digital Collections.

Construction of the Trial Island lighthouse and fog horn in 1906 and the Gonzales Hill wireless station in 1907 had dramatic effects on the incidence of shipwreck hereabouts, if these gleanings — doubtless incomplete — give a true account.


The schooner Antelope left on Saturday for Trial Island, to endeavour to save the cargo of the stranded sloop Hamley.

May 11, p. 3.


Schooner Industry … high and dry on Trial Island … schooner Black Hawk … to her relief.

July 29, p. 3.


Wreck of a Sloop—Supposed Loss of Life—About noon on Friday Mr Francis, who resides on Trial Island, observed portions of a small vessel floating in the surf near his house, and upon close examination ascertained that they must have formed part of a flat bottomed sloop, painted black with a white streak around her. The mast, broken in two, and shreds of the sails, were picked up. Francis brought word to town and men engaged in coasting express the opinion that the wreck is that of the sloop Annie of Orcas Island, on the way to Victoria, with three men, struck by the sudden squall on Thursday night, and dashed to pieces on Trial Island rocks. A sloop started out yesterday to examine the wreck.

December 19, p. 3.


Castaway on Trial Island.—Early yesterday afternoon the family of Capt McNeil heard a man’s voice calling from Trial Island, the ugly, weatherbeaten brown hump which lies almost abreast of Oak Bay, , and right in the track of vessels bound for San Juan Island and the Mainland. It is called Trial Island because it tries both human patience and skill to round it when an easterly wind is blowing. They ran down to the beach and saw a man standing on the edge of the hump waving his arms and shouting “Help, help!” The distance to Trial Island from McNeil’s is about a quarter of a mile, a stiff sou’easter was blowing at the time and, besides, there was neither boat nor canoe to be had short of the city. No immediate relief could be send to the poor fellow, who seemed in great distress of mind and body. He explained to the people onshore that he was rowing a small boat and that in attempting to land on Trial Island the boat was stove and floated away, he scrambling ashore. Presently the boat drifted into Oak Bay and was secured. It was full of water and was soon followed by a number of articles that were in it at the time of the accident. Among other things picked up was a pocket book containing memoranda that lead to the belief that the owners name is J Dewilly of Bellingham Bay. Intelligence of the accident reached town in the afternoon and Inspector Bowden, with a crew, started in a boat for Trial Island to rescue the man.

[Since the above was in type we learn from the Inspector that the man was taken from Trial Island by an Indian canoe, last evening. His name is Dudly and he left Victoria yesterday morning for Orcas Island lime kiln, where he is employed. He put in at Trial Island for shelter and the boat was floated off and stove, leaving him on the island.]

January 6, p. 3.


Sloop Alarm, while on her way from San Juan with 100 barrels of lime … ran on a rock off Trial Island and filled. The lime, ignited by the water, burnt off her hatches, and part of her decks and rigging …

September 6, p. 3.

… feared Alarm will prove a total wreck. She is drifting out into the Straits …

September 21, p. 3.


Schooner Sabina … wrecked on Trial Island with a load of grain for Victoria. All hands saved …

February 12, p. 3.


Wrecked on Trial Island.

Total loss of the Sloop Duncan.

And Rescue of The Unfortunate Owner and Family After Twenty-Four Hours Exposure.

November 24, p. 3.


SS Enterprise southbound in Haro Strait from New Westminster collided with R.P. Rithet, northbound for New Westminster … at 2:25 p.m.

… 400 yards northeast of Ten Mile PointEnterprise ran across the Rithet’s bow .. Rithet struck the Enterprise on the forward quarter of the port side … locked together … bow of the Enterprise began to sink … 45 degrees … terrible confusion … at first [people] thought the R. P. Rithet would be sucked under by the Enterprise going down … passengers jumped overboard and clung to bales of hay … cattle swimming about in every direction  … two men dead …

Steamer Western Slope left Cadboro Bay bound for Port Moody … towed Enterprise to Cadboro Bay …

July 29, p. 3.

Enterprise 50 yards from shore in Cadboro Bay … shore strewn with wreckage, dead cattle …

July 30, p. 3. 

Aug 1, p. 3; Inquest: Aug 5, p. 3; Aug 6, p. 2; Aug 7, p. 3; Aug 8, p. 3; Aug 9, pp. 2, 3; Aug 11, p. 3; Aug 12, p. 3.

"Wreck of the SS Enterprise off Ten Mile Point near Victoria." Photograph by Maynard, July 1885. BC Archives Call No. A-00070. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.
“Wreck of the SS Enterprise off Ten Mile Point near Victoria.” Photograph by Maynard, July 1885. BC Archives Call No. A-00070. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

Christmas Day, 5 a.m. … British bark Arabella, lumber laden from Hastings for Montevideo, being towed toward Royal Roads by provincial tug Pilot … dense fog suddenly settled down … tug struck south shore of Trial Island … bark also went on the rocks, narrowly escaping running the tug down. … mate and steward send ashore … tug Alexander Pilot hauled off  … big hole in Arabella … hard and fast on rocks  … captain and crew slept on island …

December 27, p. 3.

… underwriters’ sale … 479,387 feet of lumber …

December 29, p. 2.

… total wreck, abandoned. Her back is broken and her position is perilous in the extreme. The captain and crew, with the rigging and moveable effects of the wreck were brought into port on Sunday.

ditto, p. 3.

… sale …rigging, furniture …

December 31, p. 2.


Mr. Charles Burns, owner of the sloop that went ashore near Trial Island last Friday night with a cargo of hoops for the Saanich Lime Company, has returned to San Juan by way of Port Townsend, and will leave San Juan at once with another sloop to try and release his own from the rocks at Fowl Bay.

November 10, p. 1.


Emma went ashore on … Mellon’s Reef, in Sunday night’s fog … two coal scows in tow … appears to be a total wreck. ..

October 14, p. 5.

… Emma in 25 feet of water … sold …

October 18, p. 5.

… not worth lifting …

October 23, p. 5.


The C. P. N. Steamer Maude Meets with a Mishap

The C. P. N. Company’s steamer Maude was yesterday on the beach at McNeill Bay. She left here for Nanaimo on Friday evening, and when off the bay the wheel chains broke, leaving her helpless for the time being. Realizing what had happened, Captain Roberts immediately dropped both anchors, but the heavy gale took the steamer into shore in spite of all efforts. The tug Mystery yesterday went out, but was unable to pull the large steamer off the beach, where she was found partly on her stern, with her rudder badly crippled. The Islander went to her assistance last evening.

March 12, p. 8.


The Tug “Hope” Comes to Grief In Oak Bay.

The many Victorians who attended the band concert at Oak Bay last evening had also the opportunity inspecting the wreck of a local steamer well known along the waterfront and at all the logging camps of British Columbia. The unfortunate craft was the tugboat Hope, Captain Holmes, which was proceeding to Victoria with a boom of logs from the north for the Sayward mill, when stress of weather compelled her to drop anchor in Oak Bay late on Tuesday evening. With the receding of the tide yesterday morning she was caught on a rock immediately opposite the Mount Baker hotel, and filling quickly was left in an extremely unpleasant though not exactly dangerous position. The damage done is not believed to be very serious, and it is hoped that the effort to be made today to float the steamer will prove successful …

August 16, p. 5.


Tug Velos, barge aground on Trial Island … five men lost …

March 24, 26, April 2

Late in the day [of March 22] the tugboat Velos towed the converted hull of the tug Pilot with twenty-four men aboard out of Victoria Harbour and into the teeth of a vicious southeaster. Aboard the Velos, bound for Haddington Island quarries, was stonemason Frederick Adams, 55, owner of the Pilot. He had signed his will only that morning. A desperate man, he had overridden the skipper’s advice not to go out. Adams had been the second-phase contractor for the B.C. Parliament Buildings until he got into a fight with architect Francis Rattenbury about dark stone secured from a quarry in Koksilah for the buildings’ façade. Rattenbury had chosen the darker rock, but onsite changed his mind, then hung the mistake on Adams. It had to be replaced with lighter-toned rock, Rattenbury insisted, at the contractor’s expense. Rattenbury, a newcomer from England half Adams’s age, had with a padded résumé and borrowed designs bested sixty-six competitors in the competition to design the new Parliament Buildings. He was a star in Victoria. Adams lost the blame game and had to withdraw from the contract. The ex-contractor found himself scrabbling to deliver the replacement materials at his own expense. Rattenbury thought nothing of charging B.C. taxpayers $3,000 for attending many acrimonious meetings over the affair.

In Enterprise Channel, between Trial Island and the Oak Bay main, the captain tried to turn the tug back, but it foundered, lost power, grounded on a shoal, and broke up. The barge, cut loose, fared better than the tug, running aground in a  sheltered cove on the near island, where the men listened to the cries of the five men trapped in the tug, one by one drowning on the rising tide. Adams died in the galley. At his Pembroke Street home that night, it’s said, Adams’s dog set up a howl, and his wife knew at once he had come to harm. The account in Reksten’s Rattenbury ends on a chilling note:

Eighteen months after Adams’s death the stonework … was completed, and to mark the occasion the government treated the workmen to a celebratory dinner at the Mount Baker Hotel. … Cries went up for the architect, and Rattenbury toasted the assembly saying, “The pleasantest part of this work has been that it has gone through with such good feeling that there is not a man employed on it that I cannot tonight shake hands with.” (Colonist, September 24, 1896 — footnote)

Parts of Frederick Adams’s story are in Rattenbury by Terry Reksten (Sono Nis 1978, 2nd edition 1998), Francis Rattenbury and British Columbia: Architecture and Challenge in the Imperial Age by Anthony Barrett and R. W. Liscombe (UBC Press 1983), Keepers of the Light by Donald Graham (Harbour Publishing 1985) and The Daily Colonist. Adapted from Victoria from Sidney to Sooke, An Altitude SuperGuide by Peter Grant (Canmore, Alberta: Altitude Publishing, 1994).


A strong southwesterly gale blowing across the Straits yesterday brought the well known tug Falcon to what seems now certain destruction on the rocks near Gonzales Point in the famous Trial island passage. The tug was on her way to Comox for coal, having left here with a scow in tow some time between 8 and 9  o’clock yesterday morning. At the time of her departure the gale had not yet grown to any considerable extent, but increased in fury as the steamer proceeded on her way. Captain Jesse Cowper, the tug’s owner, was in command, there being a crew of four on board … when going through the dangerous pass a log struck and smashed her propeller, at once crippling her. Some of her machinery is said to have broken down …  With a tremendous sea rolling high up on the shore the danger of the crew added to the excitement on board … The steamer in the meanwhile bumped hard upon the rock and, at last reports last night, was a total wreck, her bottom having fallen out. … Later in the afternoon a telephone message from the Mount Baker hotel announced that the crew had all arrived there safely, thus relieving the anxiety which was beginning to be felt. …

January 9, p. 5.

… considerable damage to the bottom, but nothing of a very serious nature …

January 10, p. 7.

The Falcon Still Stranded at Oak Bay. … Another attempt to port her …

January 12, p. 2.

Yesterday’s heavy wind wrought complete destruction to the little tug Falcon, which went on the rocks near Gonzales Point in the famous Trial island passage a little over a week ago. Everything was in readiness for the removal of the tug yesterday morning, and had not the gale interrupted in all probability she would now be in port … went to pieces yesterday morning …

January 19, p. 8.


Steam collier Kahului carrying coal between Departure Bay and San Francisco … made little headway against a strong current … swept close to Trial Island … fog closed in late afternoon … ran aground … then swung clear …

… Navigators agree that a foghorn and light on Trial Island would reduce … the danger …

August 22, p. 6.


O. R. & N. liner Chittagong carrying flour and bark from Portland to Comox … dead slow in fog … taking soundings … Ten minutes before the steamer struck, the lead found 62 fathoms of water. The next thing was a sharp concussion, and the big freighter piled up on the ledge of rocks just above Ten Mile point

… swinging easily … hanging with her stern almost in the path of coasters, in fog so dense the shoreline could not be made out through it.

September 23, p. 5.


In attempting to avoid a strong ebb tide, the force of which all navigators realize in rounding Trial island, and to cut short a circuitous passage, the tug Vancouver came to grief on a reef off Mary Todd island yesterday morning and for the remainder of the day lay with her nose high out of water, defying all efforts to float her. She left here in command of Captain Marchant and was bound for coal cargo, for which a scow trailed behind. When off Oak Bay Captain Marchant believed he could gain time by coming closer in shore and taking advantage of a current which flowed alluringly through the passage in which the steamer was entrapped. Once fast the steamer refused to move and the tug Chieftan was sent to her assistance during the afternoon. The latter, however, was obliged to return without accomplishing any good, as being of too deep draught she was unable to approach near enough to the Vancouver to render aid. … a telephone message from the Mount Baker hotel last night stated the vessel’s lights were lost to view …

February 24, p. 2.


A Prisoner on Trial Island. The Seattle Steamer “Mist” has a Close Call on the Point that Proved Fatal to the “Velos.”

… Seattle steamer Mist convoying the stern wheeler Ramona, just arrived from Portland … came to grief on the first stage of their voyage to Wrangel … while going at full speed struck a kelp reef and was there for upwards of an hour … the tide rising, floated off …

March 24, p. 3.


… stranding of the little freighting steamer North Star at 9:30 Friday night on Trial Island, where she hung all yesterday …

April 22, p. 6.


On a Reef for Six Hours. Str. Princess Louise Runs on the Edge of Mouatt Reef Yesterday.

… Mouatt Reef, which lies betw Gonzales point and McNeill’s Bay, is some 200 yards above Trial Island … bound from New Westminster to Victoria … flat reef … extremely low water … heavily laden … cattle …

… Purser went ashore … some passengers … landed on rocks at Gonzales Point … walked to Oak Bay, ¼ mile … street car to city.

… Capt Sears went to Charmer … made report to Capt Troup … Otter standing by … Queen CityPrincess Louise floated off with the tide about 11 p.m.

March 17, p. 3.


The Santa Clara (Alaska Packer’s Association) was with the Benjamin Packard and Bankburn, lying at anchor in the Royal Roads on the night of Christmas, and when the wind blew “great guns” and did so much damage, she drifted to within a couple of ship’s lengths off Trial Island, where her anchors held. The Bankburn drifted across to San Juan [Island?] and the Benjamin Packard to a stone’s throw from the reefs off the Dallas road [sic] inside Brotchie Ledge. The Santa Clara was kept from going ashore by most skilful seamanship, and next morning she was riding to an anchor off Trial Island. When the Mystery came to her assistance she lifted her anchors and the heavy westerly wind set her on the rocks.

January 11, p. 3. Re-edited.

"View of Santa Clara at Fourth Avenue dock in Seward, Alaska." Stauter-Mongin Photograph Collection, 1905-1915, IdentifierSCL-4-5, Seward Community Library Association.
“View of Santa Clara at Fourth Avenue dock in Seward, Alaska.” Stauter-Mongin Photograph Collection, 1905-1915, Identifier SCL-4-5, Seward Community Library Association.

Santa Clara still on the rocks on Trial Island with a heavy port list … Captain Williams up from San Francisco to superintend operations for rescue …

January 3, p. 3.

… was floated at 6.30 yesterday morning. … The holes made in the port side of her by the pounding on the rocks were temporarily repaired, and then 18 of Stevedore McDermott’s ‘longshore crew took out 300 tons of her ballast, the work being completed on Thursday night. The yards, top hamper, pumps, etc. had been lightened … and a ten-inch pump belonging to the British Columbia salvage association had been placed on board to keep the ship free of water. At high tide yesterday morning the water lifted her from the rocks and the tugs Mamie and Tyee—the little Tyee—hauled her into deep water. She … will be hauled out on the Esquimalt Marine Ways. She is not seriously damaged and will soon be on her way up to load cargo at Ladysmith.

January 11, p. 3.

… The Japanese cook of the Santa Clara died on Sunday, and his remains were brought to the city yesterday by the tug Mamie

January 7, p. 3.

Wrecked Sloop.
Sunday’s Gale Wrecked ‘Small Craft Near Stranded Santa Clara.

During the storm of Sunday a sloop was wrecked near the Santa Clara. T. Carlesen, the Swede, against whom charges of selling whiskey to Indians on the West Coast have been made, is said to have returned from the island coast on Saturday, and a suspicion was entertained that it was his sloop that was wrecked, but this fact has not been proven, nor the sloop identified. The occupant of the wrecked sloop was a Swede, but it is not known whether he is  the man for whom the police are looking. The Swede was bound to Port Townsend in his vessel, which is a fishing boat about 18 or 20 feet long, and was sailing on the weather side of Trial Island when the storm arose. He sailed around afterwards to the leeward side of the island and was driven in near the Santa Clara by the wind . Seeing him in danger some sailors gave him a line, and he went on board the ship. He had a trunk in the sloop and the sailors asked him to send that up on the Santa Clara, but the man refused, and while he stood on the ship in conversation in this regard, a wave swept the sloop up against the ship, swamped her and the trunk was thrown overboard. It broke open and a number of small boxes fell out. As the trunk was swept overboard the rescued man said, “Well, I guess I don’t go to Port Townsend.” The sloop was wrecked.

A craft believed to be the same vessel was picked up yesterday in McNeill’s Bay, where it had been drifted by the tide. The boat was badly split, the injuries, seeming, newly received. The mast and sail had carried away, and the rudder was gone. The boat had a blue top and was painted brown inside and dark brown outside. It was picked up by Mr. Sewell.

January 7, p. 3.

Santa Clara has been hauled out on the Esquimalt marine ways, and it is now shown that her injuries were greater than expected. The greater part of her keel has been torn away or wrecked, her starboard bow is injured, and many timbers and frames will have to be renewed on her port side, where the rocks sprung in the timbers as she fell over at low water. There are no large holes in the ship’s hull, as the rocks did not penetrate, but sprung the timbers and knees. The work will employ a number of shipwrights for the best part of a month.

January 15, p. 3.

The case of the Alaska Packers’ Association vs. S. A. Spencer is now occupying the attention of the full court in Vancouver. It is an appeal against the judgment of Mr. Justice Irving. E. V. Bodwell, K.C., is counsel for the appellant, and K. P. Davis, K.C., and Mr. Wilson, of Victoria, are acting for the defendant respondents.

The story of the case is as follows: On December 23, 1901, the Santa Clara, Captain Lindburg, was lying at anchor in the Royal Roads, off Victoria, where she was overtaken by a heavy gale, and after dragging her anchors for some distance the ship came to a safe anchorage in a little bay near Trial Island, in the straits of Juan de Fuca. On the following day she was approached by the tug Mystery and an arrangement was made to the effect that the latter should tow the Santa Clara to her destination, at Ladysmith, Vancouver Island. Accordingly a hawser was thrown the Santa Clara and made fast, and then the complications which resulted in the Santa Clara drifting on the nearby rocks arose. The plaintiff appellants claim that the engines and equipment of the tug were not capable of towing the Santa Clara, and taking her straight ahead, and so, by lack of power and bad management the ship was allowed to drift backward on the rocks on the shore of Trial island, with the result of damage to the ship and loss of time, which the plaintiffs estimated at $25,000.

On the other hand, the defendants (respondents) declare that the Mystery was a tug of quite sufficient power to haul the Santa Clara from her position to a point of safety. At the same time they differ with the owners of the Santa Clara in considering the bay in which the vessel found refuge a place of safety. The accident, they aver, arose from no fault of theirs, but was due to the Santa Clara not obeying the directions of the tug to pay out her chain when the messenger chain (which connects the engines with the windlass) broke while the Santa Clara was hauling up her anchor …

“Alaska Packers vs. J. A. Spencer. Law-Suit Hinging on a Marine Accident During Storm of 1901.” Colonist, April 23, 1904, p. 8.

… Among the vessels stranded on Trial Island were the steamer Tees and the ship Santa Clara, which drifted on to the rocks on the opposite side of the island after dragging her anchors during a heavy gale of Christmas night, 1901. The tug Mystery which was to have towed her off was considered responsible by the Alaska Packers’ association, owners of the Santa Clara, they claiming the vessel lifted her anchor and went ashore because of the negligence of the tug. Several costly trials were held in consequence, in which the suit brought against the tug was dismissed.

“City of Seattle Fast on Rocks.” Colonist, September 21, 1906, p. 7.


… Chinese steam scow Katie … engaged in carrying cord wood from the Chinese camps near Gordon Head to the city, is ashore on Trial Island, not far from where the Santa Clara rested for many days after the Christmas day storm …

January 14, p. 3.

… a wreck …

January 16, p. 3.

The Daily Colonist, January 10, 1904, p. 1. Accessed via The British Colonist Online Edition 1858-1910 .
The Daily Colonist, January 10, 1904, p. 1. Accessed via The British Colonist Online Edition 1858-1910 <>.

In gale-force southwesterly winds the brand-new Seattle-based ferry SS Clallam flooded and lost power in the tidal rips south of Trial Island en route from Port Townsend to Victoria. Three lifeboats full of passengers, put into wild seas in an area notorious for tidal rips, were lost during or minutes after launch. All the women and children aboard perished. Some had begged not to be put off the steamer. A man committed suicide after watching his wife and child drown. Then the steamer stayed afloat for ten hours. It sank after being towed — back toward Port Townsend, for a reason never explained — then suddenly cut loose. Many died after falling off the sinking steamer. A few male passengers and 22 remaining (mostly American) crewmen survived, while more than 56 people died. Why? The contributing neglects and mistakes were many and various; it was never even made clear how the ship became flooded. Human error played a huge role — but whose, and how much?

SS Clallam. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW10684. Used by kind permission.
SS Clallam. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW10684. Used by kind permission.

January 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 30, February 3, 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, March 8, 15, 16, April 10, 16, 22, June 15, July 20, August 11, 13, 17, September 22. Thanks to CanGenWeb’s British Columbia website <> for compiling transcriptions of press coverage.

Canadian outrage was articulated poetically by Frank Davey in The Clallam, or Old Glory in Juan de Fuca (Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks, 1973).

The Clallam or Old Glory in Juan de Fuca, by Frank Davey. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1973.
Cover of The Clallam or Old Glory in Juan de Fuca, by Frank Davey.

CPR steamer Tees … from the northern ports to Victoria, struck on Trial Island shortly after one o’clock Saturday morning and is now fast upon the rocks … attempts to pull her off failed … east side … lying at angle of 30 degrees … Captain Hughes was below at the time … rumour he was seriously ill with pneumonia …

… hundreds of Victorians visited the Olympian Boulevard, which runs past the golf links and affords a magnificent view of Trial Island and the straits, and had a look at the stranded steamer as she lay at low water perched upon the reefs.

After the Clallam disaster a select committee of the Victoria Board of Trade was appointed to make full enquiry into the question of the sea lights and beacons around this section of the coast, and especially with reference to the erection of a light … on Trial island … opinions are almost unanimously in favor of a light …

… committee on Friday morning … laid the whole matter before Captain Gaudin … he did not concur with their view of the urgency … five lights within radius of ten miles of Victoria Harbour  … problem of wire connections … strong currents …

… matter of Trial island light brought up and debated ten years ago …

… within 24 hours of that conference the Tees went upon the rocks at the identical spot …

… often the currents sets with tremendous strength at the Trial island stretch … as a treacherous bit of water it fairly matches that which lies around Ushant, off Brest, France … the ill-fated Drummond Castle eight or nine years ago …

February 14, p. 8.

… came off the rocks … mighty pull … unlucky alteration of course just at the critical moment did the damage … running pretty much at full speed … whole coast line of the east side of the island is full of jagged rocks and reefs … ran by happy accident upon a shelving rock between two dangerous looking spikes …

February 16, p. 3.

… released from quarantine …

February 17, p. 8.

… damage slight …

February 19, p. 8.


Steamer City of Seattle … of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, lies hard and fast on the rocky ledges of the east side of Trial Island, where she ran aground almost at full speed on her way to Victoria from Seattle early yesterday morning, soon after 4 o’clock …

… heavy sea … patches of haze … three vessels pulling could not float her at high water …

September 21, p. 1.


At Trial Island. Details of Arrangement of the Fog Alarm and Light Station.

… notice: “The lighthouse is built on the summit of the 80-foot knoll near the southwest end of the island. The fog alarm building stands on a lower part of the rock southeasterly from the lighthouse. It is a rectangular wooden building, painted white with red roof. The horn projects from the south end of the building, and points. 22º E. Lat. N. 48º 23’ 39”, Long. W. 123º 18’ 48”.

“The fog horn consists of a diaphone, operated by means of compressed air, the power being supplied by an oil engine. It will give, during thick or foggy weather, one blast of about three seconds’ duration every minute, thus: Blast 3 seconds, silent interval 57 seconds. The fog alarm was put in operation on September 1, 1906. Further notice will be given when the light is established.”

October 12, p. 5.

Trial Island from the southeast, showing the lighthouse, the lightkeeper's residence at right, and the fog horn housing at left. Photo by lighthouser, on flickr. Used by kind permission.
Trial Island from the southeast, showing the lighthouse (built 1970 on the site of the 1906 liighthouse), the lightkeeper’s residence, at right, and the fog horn housing, at left. Photo by lighthouser, on flickr. Used by kind permission.

Princess Victoria left Vancouver  at 3 p.m. … went aground on Lewis Rock, alongside the beacon marking the rock, within sight of Oak Bay, at 7:30 p.m. at low water and remained fast …

Steamer out of her course. The channel usually taken lies between Fiddle Reef, the danger off Oak Bay being marked with a light, and Lewis Rock, which is on the edge of the chain of rocks extending further into Baynes Passage …

… thick rain after 7 … light obscured until too late …

… three men went ashore to telephone regarding the accident from Oak Bay hotel.

Mr. Oliver and others went in a launch to bring off Dr. O. M. Jones and party. Those on board the steamer heard the cough of the exhaust of the launch and then a hail:

“Is Dr. Jones on board?”

He was and with his party he was quickly transferred to the launch. No others landed. All were content. …

The rain had passed and there was no wind; the stars shone in a blue-black sky. The shore lights at Oak Bay were plain and even the street car could be seen making its way from the Oak Bay terminus …

… R. P. Rithet on site … mail and passengers transhipped …

… three boats help float the ship at 12:45 p.m. …

October 17, pp. 1, 5, 8.

"The SS Princess Victoria aground on Lewis Rock." Photographer undetermined, taken 16 Oct 1906. BC Archives Call No. C-09834. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.
“The SS Princess Victoria aground on Lewis Rock.” Photographer undetermined, taken 16 Oct 1906. BC Archives Call No. C-09834. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

Salvage of Launch Involves the Owner. Customs Officers Want to Know Why He Failed to Report Arrival of Vessel.

The salvage of a gasoline launch belonging to Dr. Capron of Roche Harbor is liable to involve the owner with the local customs. It seems that during the blow on Wednesday the launch which had been anchored at Oak Bay dragged her mudhook and was on a reef off the Oak Bay hotel when G. L. Woods, master and owner of the sloop Marion, noticed the danger of the launch. He went out with a boat and with a kedge anchor thrown out some distance from the reef dragged the launch to safety. It was still blowing heavily and the launch was with difficulty kept from again drifting to a reef. For three hours Mr. Woods and H. Hawkins from the Oak Bay hotel worked to salve the launch and succeeded in beaching it.

The salvors yesterday morning notified the collector of customs, J. C. Neubury, of having rescued the launch and to the effect that they considered themselves entitled to salvage therefor. Meanwhile they have pasted their label on the vessel to notify the owner that they have made have made claim for salvage.

The notice of the claim by the salvors was the first intimation that the customs had of the existence of the steam launch. Consequently, the customs officials are awaiting for the owner to make his appearance and explain as to how she came to be anchored unattended off Oak Bay without having been reported to the customs house.

It is stated that the vessel, an American launch, is owned by Dr. Capron, of Roche Harbor, who occasionally visits Victoria and Seattle, and when bound to the sound city he comes via Victoria making the voyage from Roche Harbor to Oak Bay in his launch which is left at Oak Bay while he journeys from here to Seattle and back.

September 13, p. 10.


Wireless messages are now being exchanged between the government stations at Shotbolt’s [Gonzales] hill in this city, where E. J. Haughton is in charge, and Point Grey. It was agreed that the letter “V” should be sent over at 10 a.m. At first the sound came very faintly, but when the instrument had been turned up it sounded strong and clear.

The distance between the two stations is seventy three miles, and it was feared that the high islands between would interfere with the transmission of the ether waves, but these troubles are far less than was anticipated. When the first message was received, a reply was immediately sent by wireless to Victoria, and the tidings were also sent by wire to Colonel Gourdeau, Deputy Minister of marine and Fisheries at Ottawa. After this, messages totaling two thousand words were exchanged between the two stations. The speed at which the messages were sent exceeded thirty words a minute, which would be considered good work, even by wire.

Colonist, November 30. From Marine Wireless History on the West Coast of Canada 1900-1959 transcriptions of news articles.  Rough Radio,

"Fowl Bay showing Government Wireless Station and Observatory, Victoria, B. C." Lithographed postcard, taken 1913 (when the Dominion Meteorological Observatory was built) or after. Author's collection. The Gonzales Hill wireless station was built in 1907, with a 55-metre (180-foot) tower to which the second was later connected. The station itself was north of the observatory site. Sometime in the 1940s the station was demolished.
“Fowl Bay showing Government Wireless Station and Observatory, Victoria, B. C.” Lithographed postcard, taken 1913 (when the Dominion Meteorological Observatory was built) or after. Author’s collection. The Gonzales Hill wireless station was built in 1907, with a 55-metre (180-foot) tower to which the second was later connected. The station itself was north of the observatory site. Sometime in the 1940s the station was demolished.

The fine cruising launch Winona of Victoria, built last summer by Simpson Brothers was wrecked and totally destroyed at Oak Bay after driving ashore following a breakdown of her steering gear …

Index, 1909-02-16, p. 10.


… Chinese cook lost in sinking of Des Brisay off Trial Island … R. Lee missing, Captain F. Warren picked up by Canadian Pacific Railway SS Otter

Index,1922-03-16, p. 12.

… hauling out wreck …

March 25, p. 12.


6 Victoria Men Drown in Gale. Only One Crew Member Survives.

Six Victoria seamen drowned when the 72-foot tug George McGregor capsized off Trial Islands at 5 a.m. today.

Only one crewman survived the bitter ordeal in the freezing water southeast of Victoria in this morning’s storm.

The six men dropped one by one from an overturned lifeboat in a night of horror that once saw them within five yards of safety.

Dead are:
Captain John Mason, Lampson Street, Esquimalt.
A. Johannsen, Calumet Ave., chief engineer.
Leo Dobinson, 309 Montreal Street, second engineer.
Bill Hunter, Tod Inlet, mate.
Harvey Reader, Colwood, seaman.
A. Matthews, 2643 Blanshard Street, cook.

‘Mountainous’ Waves Blamed

A story of mountainous waves that capsized first the tug, then the lifeboat and plucked the six men to their doom was related today by Gerald Douglas Anderson, 17-year-old deckhand, the single survivor of the tragedy.

Anderson was in bed suffering from shock when The Vancouver Sun telephoned his home today.

“It was like a nightmare,” he said.

“Two of the men rushed on deck almost naked when the McGregor started to go. They had been sleeping when the tug began to turn over.

“They were the first to freeze and relax their holds on the lifeboat while we were in the water.”

Anderson reached shore totally exhausted and half-frozen after clinging stubbornly to the lifeboat for 3½ hours.

“I tried to use a paddle but it was all I could do to hang on,” he related.

‘Slipped Away One-by-One’

“Once we drifted within five yards of a small island. We thought we were saved, but the tide carried us right out into deep water again.”

He said there was just time to launch the boat as “monstrous seas” tossed the foundering tug like a cork.

The survivors wept as they watched their companions slip off, one by one, from the lifeboat and sink unconscious into the water.

The George McGregor was inbound to Victoria from Bamberton, on Saanich Arm, where they had left a tow. The vessel was operated by Victoria Tug Co. Ltd.

The tragedy apparently took place so quickly no one had time to send a distress message on the radio-telephone.

Word was first received through an anonymous telephone call to the company.

The Vancouver Sun, November 26, 1949, p. 1.

One thought on “Shipwrecks near Oak Bay”

  1. Hi Peter
    I cant find your email address on my home computer. Love your new postings. I recently posted your Chronicles on my Facebook page and sent it along to the Friends of Trial Island Lighthouse. Please check out the Friends Facebook site and add some history if you have a chance.
    OB Archives

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