Dockyard of the damned: Vancouver Island’s hidden shipwrecks

The treacherous waters surrounding Vancouver Island have been the final resting place for barques, outriggers and freighters. We talk to diver Jacques Marc, who has visited the underwater graveyards of some of the worst wrecks on the coast 
Photo Jacques Marc

By Tom Hawthorn - The Globe and Mail

The waters surrounding Vancouver Island do not easily surrender secrets. The remains of vessels that once plied these waters can be found all along the craggy shoreline, hidden beneath the waves.

It is said a wrecked ship rests on the seabed for every nautical mile along the western shores of Vancouver Island. They were lost to storms and misadventure, vicious sou’westers and unforgiving reefs.

Jacques Marc, 56, dons diving gear to explore what rightfully belongs on the surface.

As exploration director of the Underwater Archeological Society of B.C., he has admired the propeller of the Idaho, a passenger ship lost off Race Rocks in 1889; studied the boiler of Tuscan Prince, a freighter that sank in Barkley Sound in 1925; been awed by the wreckage of Valencia, a passenger steamer whose sinking claimed 136 souls in 1906.

He refers to the latter as “our local Titanic.”

The remnants of the worst disaster in the waters surrounding Vancouver Island can be visited only when diving conditions are ideal.

He has wandered among the remaining pieces of a ship whose terrible end horrified people in Victoria more than a century ago.

The experience is both “cool” and “eerie.”

He never forgets those whose last moments were spent aboard the doomed ship.

“The vessel is broken up,” he said, “and the West Coast surf has pounded it into the bottom.”

The largest remaining chunk belongs to the bow. It rests on the seabed, flanked on either side by anchors that failed to protect the ship from being dashed against the rocks. “Like it was cleaved in half,” he said, “and forced upside down.”


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