Ship explosion rocked Vancouver harbour

From our November 2013 issue

By Walter Melnyk – Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

I was stationed in Victoria, B.C. in 1945. Four 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 the 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. Windows broke for blocks around and it even shook a few cars right into the ocean.

At first, everybody thought it was the Japanese attacking, but it was something in the ship that caused it to blow up. A big barge loaded with thousands of feet of Douglas fir lumber caught fire. They pulled it far away and let it burn away from the harbour.

Within about an hour’s time, The Vancouver Sun had put out an extra stating it was not an attack.

Small town visit

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.

Sixty eight years later, I’d decided to pay visit a to a few remaining friends in the village of Chipman, Alta. Since moving away from Chipman, other friends had also moved, some had died, and new folks had moved in. I met up with a friend whom I’d known 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 informed me that the young lady going to work that day was her mother.

Editor’s note: The explosion was on the SS Green Hill Park ship. According to Wikipedia: “The ship’s cargo included 85 or 95 tons of sodium chlorate, that, under certain conditions, can be a powerful high explosive. Observers saw three explosions, and, initially, it was believed that portions of the ship’s cargo of sodium chlorate exploded. The ship’s cargo also included six tons of flares, and barrels of overproof whiskey.” 

Sodium clorate is

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