Late in the evening of 22 January 1906, the U.S. passenger steamer S.S. Valencia missed the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca during stormy weather en route from San Francisco to Victoria, then on to Seattle. Near midnight, the ship struck Walla Walla Reef south of Pachena Point on Vancouver Island’s west coast. The hull of the 80-metre (252-foot) ship was breached and, in an attempt to save his vessel, Captain Oscar M. Johnson drove the ship onto the rocks, barely one hundred metres offshore. On board stood a crew of 65 and 108 passengers.
The ship remained afloat for roughly 36 hours. After the accident became known to the outside world, ships filled with members of the press stood barely a kilometre away from the wreck. However, rescue proved to be illusory. No vessels could approach Valencia by sea, and approach from land was even more problematic due to the precipitous rock cliffs in this area. For the following day and a half, the grounded Valencia was relentlessly attacked by vicious winds and unrelenting waves. Attempts to launch lifeboats from the ship proved futile. The few who made it to shore were almost all killed, their bodies dashed against the rocky shore. In the end, only 37 passengers survived the disaster.
The sinking resulting in the deaths of 136 passengers, including 17 women and 11 children led to a fundamental reformulation of the federal government’s policy of maritime safety and rescue in Pacific waters.
The construction of new aids to navigation, such as the Pachena Point lighthouse, improvements in sea rescue, updated mapping, and upgraded land and sea communications, including the West Coast Trail, were all made in response to this tragedy.
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