Reeves was by no means a complainer, and his sentiment, echoed by his mates, was prophetic. The crew of HMCS Galiano were set to sail “the Triangle,” a body of water between B.C.’s Cape Scott and Cape St. James deemed the “worst piece of water on the Pacific Coast.” The ship traversed the foreboding stretch in an attempt to provide Triangle Island residents with supplies and gasoline during a wicked October storm.
“I don’t think we will be home until the end of November,” fellow shipmate James Aird commented. “I dread the Triangle.”
Indeed, the crew never made it back. Galiano foundered and sank, losing all hands amid the crashing waves on Oct. 30, 1918. It was the only Canadian warship lost during the First World War. While many scholars say the ship’s fate was sealed by weather, it had many logistical and poor seamanship prior to its demise. It grounded twice in three years and had also struck Disappointment Inlet.
While the story of Galiano is in some ways just another in a long line of unlucky ships traversing chaotic Canadian waters, its end may have also been the result of a small navy without enough personnel, ships or safety checks.
The navy’s buildup was slow, with the emerging fleet often comprised of ships such as Galiano.
For its first 43 years, Canada went without a navy, instead relying on the Department of Marine and Fisheries to respond to maritime troubles. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, however, sought to change this in 1910 by developing Canada’s own naval force, largely with civilian vessels.
Still, the hopes of converting the Fisheries Protection Service into a naval militia was not only slow, but it also ran amuck with department-wide scandals, including charges against incompetent managers and unmotivated sailors.
“In fact, some argued that this not only resulted in crews of questionable quality,” wrote historian Richard O. Mayne, “but also led to an exodus of men who would take their Canadian training and use it to make a better future for themselves in the United States Navy.”
Even with the creation of a Naval Service of Canada on May 4, 1910, the organization’s buildup was slow, with the emerging fleet often comprised of ships such as Galiano.
Constructed by the Dublin Dockyard Company in Ireland, Galiano was built to civilian standards for practicability. Naval armament was only added later in its construction. With such modern features as electric lighting, it was 49 metres long and eight metres wide, weighing in at 700 tonnes.
But even as a modern vessel, Galiano was pushed to its limits during the First World War. The now-Royal Canadian Navy began the conflict with just two obsolete cruisers, fewer than 350 sailors and little funding. Many private citizens loaned their vessels to the service, hence, the civilian-operated Galiano took up military duties in late 1917.
This tempest was ferocious, with winds more than 100 knots and 14-metre-high waves.
Galiano assumed the role of an examination vessel, in addition to resupplying wireless stations, ferrying military personnel, conducting civilian search-and-rescue operations and delivering mail. Its commander, Lieutenant Robert Mayes Pope, ran the ship to naval standard, and discharged at least seven men for failing to meet his expectations.
Pope’s dogma was put to the test in the October 1918 storm. Though the route to Triangle Island often came with its fair share of “bad weather,” this tempest was ferocious, with winds more than 100 knots and 14-metre-high waves. One observer called the conditions “just one mass of white foam.”
Regardless, when Galiano received word of trouble on the island, the ship set sail—despite needing maintenance work for the boilers and main bearing of the tail shaft. Galiano plunged into the Pacific’s depths just 32 kilometres from Cape St. James at 3 a.m. All 36 lives were lost; and only some of the bodies were recovered.
Theories on Galiano’s end were thrown about, with sailors and scholars citing causes such as monster waves, jagged rocks and the ship’s design. And while the exact reason for Galiano’s untimely fate remains a mystery, the ship did ultimately play an important role in the development of naval vessels.
“Carrying out many of the same functions as the modern West Coast seagoing reserves,” Mayne wrote, “this small First World War patrol force represents a direct” predecessor of modern coastal defence and surveillance vessels.