There is an extraordinary amount of history steeped into the waters and land surrounding Victoria, British Columbia that it is little wonder the city is deemed one of the most haunted in the world. In fact, the Salish Sea, right on the doorstep of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Add to this the unsettling narrative of early settlers and the legends of First Nations throughout British Columbia, and you have a recipe for haunting tales. With that being said, we present two eerie stories in celebration of the year’s creepiest month, October. Happy Halloween Victoria!
The Legend of Chief Waut-Salk and the Killer Whales
This legend takes place on Boulder Island (Indian Arm). The island was at one time a burial place for the Tsleil-Waututh (“the people of the inlet”) First Nations people who still live along the waters of Indian Arm.
To appreciate the significance of the killer whales, it is best we begin with the legend of Chief Waut-Salk (~ 1770-1840). He is described as a man who revered all the elements of Mother Nature. He would speak with her, and she would respond in some way. One day he witnessed some boys casting rocks at the spawning salmon in the Indian River. He asked them to stop.
“When you hurt the salmon, you also hurt me,” he said.
But the boys only laughed and continued their cruel play.
“Okay,” he warned. “Tomorrow, there will be no salmon.”
The next day, even though the river should have been thick with spawning salmon, not a fish was seen! His people, alarmed and concerned, asked Waut-Sauk to see about their return. Chief Waut-Sauk was said to have a close relationship with all marine life. He could make them come and go at will. Hence, not long after their request, the salmon were back.
Many years later, the legend of the killer whales took shape with the passing of Chief Waut-Sauk. As was the tradition, the Chief was wrapped in cedar bark and placed in the branches of trees on the island. But this was not to be his final resting place. Christian missionaries later denounced this practice and demanded the bodies be moved. Thus Chief Waut-Sauk and his ancestors now rest in the cemetery found by the Dollarton Highway past Cates Park (North Vancouver).
But wait! Where do the killer whales come in, you ask? Chief Waut-Salk’s son placed his father’s body in a canoe to move him across the water to the new cemetery. Legend says, two Orca whales and scores of smaller fish were seen escorting the canoe to the shore and did not leave until Waut Salk’s remains were properly buried in the ground. The Orcas then disappeared from the Arm entirely and have never been seen since. To this day, when the odd Blackfish are seen in the Inlet, the Chief’s descendants must wonder who these silent guards have come to escort into the land of “Forever”. Boulder island is now privately owned. It is recommended that to observe the spirits wandering through the trees, one should watch from the water on a kayak or boat.
The SS Valencia
To understand the coastal history of Vancouver Island and Victoria, we must venture back 100 years. Victoria was the second largest city on the west coast of North America (San Francisco being the largest) and was a major port, which thousands of miners from around the world passed on their way up to BC’s interior. What makes the waters around Vancouver Island so treacherous are the vertical rocky cliffs (formed by glaciation), creating a unique hazard for coastal ships. Historical records document there is a wrecked ship for every mile of coast along Vancouver Island, thus earning the perilous waters the moniker, “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
Of the numerous accounts of shipwrecks, perhaps the most well-known is the story of the SS Valencia. It is also one of the most tragic. On January 20, 1906, the Valencia departed San Francisco for Seattle with close to 108 passengers and 65 crewmembers on board. Dense fog, sleet, and wind had forced the vessel to slower speeds. Ocean currents made a mockery of Captain Johnston’s chartered course, and the inevitable came to pass. Mere minutes before midnight on January 22, 1906, the Valencia hurtled into the rocks three miles east of Pachena Point (13 KM south of Bamfield).
For two agonizing days, passengers and crew attempted to cheat death. Rescuers watched helplessly as the violent waves tore the Valencia apart sweeping countless souls into the sea to drown. Of the handful of survivors, Chief Freight Clerk Frank Lehn, later described the horror of the event:
“Screams of women and children mingled in an awful chorus with the shrieking of the wind, the dash of rain, and the roar of the breakers. As the passengers rushed on deck they were carried away in bunches by the huge waves that seemed as high as the ship’s mastheads. The ship began to break up almost at once and the women and children were lashed to the rigging above the reach of the sea. It was a pitiful sight to see frail women, wearing only night dresses, with bare feet on the freezing ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain.”
Ever since the tragic and fateful wreck, sightings of the phantom ship have become a common occurrence. Are the lost souls of the SS Valencia doomed to continually navigate the sea? Sceptics take note of the facts that are presented:
Fact #1: The ship’s cook, a veteran of four other shipwrecks, felt unnatural foreboding from their departure. His last mortal words as he went down are now legendary: “I should have known all along that she was doomed!”
Fact #2: Sailors who have no motive for fabrication claim to have seen a steamer working the coastline near the wreck, years after the tragedy. They say the vessel “resembled the ill-fated Valencia” and they “could vaguely see human forms clinging to her mast and rigging.”
Fact #3: As though a message from the beyond, the Valencia’s fifth lifeboat came ashore in Barkley Sound. It displayed a startling aspect. In a remarkable indication of unseen spectres, the small craft was in a solid state. But its arrival on shore took place in 1933, 27 years after the wreck!