Memorial Crosses on Gil Island marking the spot where the Queen of the North struck in March of 2006. The two crosses commemorate the two fatalities. (Walter Thorne photo)

Memorial Crosses on Gil Island marking the spot where the Queen of the North struck in March of 2006. The two crosses commemorate the two fatalities. (Walter Thorne photo)

It’s Our Heritage – Walter Thorne

The marvellous and treacherous parts of the Douglas Channel and its adjacent waterways

Story By – Walter Thorne

Douglas Channel and its adjacent waterways are marvellous but treacherous parts of our marine environment. Over the years they have claimed lives.

Our latest incident was this past February in the midst of a fierce winter storm. In the wee hours of February 11, 2021, the small 10-metre Ingenika tug sank with the tragic death of two Prince Rupert mariners. The media and the grieving families are still pleading for answers. Requests have been made to recover the vessel but officials are suggesting the task of recovering the Ingenika will be cost-prohibitive.

This vessel vanished into the depths 60 kilometres southeast of Kitimat, in the Gardner Canal.

That sinking was the second tug lost in the area. About 68 years ago the tug Nitinat also sank into the depths.

That event in 1953 was reported in Jack Folsom’s book Mancatcher which is about the start of the Kitimat-Kemano project.

The Nitinat sank just off Kemano Bay, fortunately, there was no loss of life. However, the Nitinat also lies unsalvageable in the deep waters of the Gardner Canal.

Within 100 kilometres of Kitimat, there are a number of shipwrecks that have never been recovered. The most famous is the Queen of the North, a majestic ferry that was the flagship of the BC Ferry fleet. It vanished in the wee hours of March 22, 2006. It lies nearly 430-metres below the surface, 70 kilometres directly south of Kitimat where Douglas Channel joins Wright Sound. Like the Ingenika tragedy, the sinking of the Queen of the North also resulted in two fatalities.

Other rusting hulks reasonably close to Kitimat include two US warships: the SS Ohio which lies on a rocky shore at Carter Bay near Butedale and the SS Zalinsky which lies near the western shore of Grenville Channel.

These two long ago sinkings were both without fatalities. Our area has witnessed further sinkings and grounding events.

The SS Prince Rupert sank in shallow waters at Swanson Bay in 1920, however, it was refloated, the SS Transit grounded on the rocks at McKay Reach in 1919, and the SS Coquitlam nearly sank at Drumlummon Bay near Foch Lagoon when it encountered the ferocious outflow currents and smashed upon the rocks. That was back over a century ago in 1917.

Several of our submerged wrecks pose threats to our environment. The tugs in the Gardner Canal will likely emit fuel contaminants for years to come and the well-monitored wreck of the Queen of the North still produces smaller surface oil slicks. Fortunately, the SS Zalinsky in Grenville Channel which was in a shallower location was pumped clear of fuel about a decade ago in an expensive coast guard-led operation.

Our marine waterways are dangerous but technology helps. Caution is required. We ignore the weather and other risks at our peril. Shipwrecks are examples of our mistakes. Our condolences are extended to all families who have dealt with marine tragedies.

We especially remember the two families who lost loved ones in the sinking of the Ingenika on February 11.

READ MORE: It’s Our Heritage – Kitimat’s First Royal

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