With the anticipation of the Victoria & Sidney Railway being awarded the contract to transport mail to the Gulf Islands, Thomas W. Patterson, (the manager of the V & S) privately decided to have a small steamer built for the purpose. The S.S. Iroquois was built and launched on February 19, 1900 at Port Moody. It entered service plying the waters between Sidney and Nanaimo with stops a several of the Gulf Islands on April 2 of the same year. The 82 foot long vessel was capable of carrying 100 tonnes of passengers and freight, with a travelling speed of 12 knots.
During its time of service, the Iroquois made over 2,000 trips to the ports of call. While it was in operation the steamer had several mishaps, but on April 10, 1911, her service ended in disaster. In strong winds and rough sea conditions, the top heavy steamer left the Sidney dock at the foot of Beacon Avenue about 9 o'clock that morning with at least 31 passengers and crew. The vessel was loaded down with cargo including coal for ballast, a large quantity of rice and 10 tonnes of fertilizer in its hold, 20 cases of pick handles, a tonne of iron and 20 bales of hay stacked upon its deck. Within fifteen minutes from the dock the steamers unsecured cargo shifted and the Iroquois began to list. Captain Albert A. Sears steered the ship towards shore, but was unable to get very near before the ship capsized.
It is believed that at least 20 people died as a result of the accident, as many of the bodies were never recovered and an exact count was never determined. By the next day the news of the sinking was made known internationally in newspapers on the east coast of the United States, also appearing in newspapers in New Zealand and Australia. Because of the tragedy, revised loading regulations and better accounting of the listing of passengers were recommended for all coastal vessels.
Sidney Museum Photo Gallery
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