‘Everybody thought it was the Japanese’

From our November 2013 issue

By Walter Melnyk – Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

When I was stationed in Victoria, B.C., four of my friends and I decided to go to Vancouver because we had a few days off. We were booked in the Vancouver Hotel along the main harbour. Our room was on the third story. We left the room and had to walk down the stairs because there were no elevators in that hotel.

There were windows on the side of the hotel facing the harbour which was loaded with fishing boats and one fairly large ship.

As we came down the stairs there was a large explosion and a flame that went hundreds of feet in the air along with parts of the ship. It exploded a few times. It broke windows for blocks around and shook a few cars into the ocean.

Everybody thought it was the Japanese attacking but it was something in the ship that caused it to blow up. All at once, the servicemen and I held hands and kept the crowd from getting too close to the scene.

There was a big barge loaded with thousands of feet of Douglas fir lumber. It caught fire and they pulled it far away and let it burn away from the harbour.

There were 19 people killed in that big explosion that rocked part of Vancouver. In fact, in about an hour’s time The Vancouver Sun had an extra out stating that it was not an attack.

A young lady was on her way to work at a tall brick building next to the harbour. She was just about to open the door when she also witnessed the explosion that sent the steel deck in large pieces about a hundred feet in the air. There was a mushroom effect like Hiroshima. She also saw parts of the bodies flying in the air.

Six decades plus eight years later, I decided to visit a few friends in Chipman. Since our move from Chipman, many people moved away, others died, and new ones moved in. I met a friend whom I’d known for about 30 years.

She asked me if I could recall the story of the ship blowing up in Vancouver that I wrote about in my autobiography. I said how could I forget? Every time I think about it, I can see it in my mind like it happened yesterday.

She said that the young lady who was going to work that day was her mother. Imagine! I’ve known her mother for many years but it never was talked about until she read it.

This young lady is 93 years old and helps with the monthly Golden Senior Friday suppers. She is a grand lady to know and has become one of my best friends.

Editor’s note: Reader Fay Beasley of Courtenay, B.C. remembered this incident and wrote about it here.