Love Letters to a City

If you lived in Campbell River in the 1980s then no doubt you are familiar with the story of the Sundancer.  On the night of June 29, 1984 the cruise ship Sundancer got into serious trouble when the pilot made a miscalculation in the dangerous waters of Seymour Narrows.  Not realizing the ship’s exact position, he directed it to turn into Maud Island.  By the time the mistake was realized, it was too late, and several large gashes were ripped into the ship’s hull by the island’s reef.  A safety drill had been practiced earlier in the day, so the passengers were quickly assembled at their assigned stations when the alarms sounded a little before midnight.  The boat carefully made its way to the Elk Falls Mill wharf even though it was taking on water quickly.  Passengers were evacuated from the boat using rope ladders, and in the case of the more elderly passengers, the bucket of a fire truck.  They cleared the way just as the dock began to break down under the weight of the listing cruise ship.  It was a terrifying night for many, but in the end there were no injuries or lives lost and by 6:00am everyone was accounted for and having breakfast.

The Museum Archives has a thick file on the shipwreck, with the full Investigation Report from Transport Canada, newspapers from the time, the Search and Rescue Special Report and more. One thing that really stands out in the file is a series of letters from shipwreck survivors.  Written to the Fire Department, the Mayor, the newspaper – the common thread is a heartfelt appreciation for how the community came out and supported them in this crisis.

Mrs. J. Shalkop from New York State sent a note to the Mayor on stationary from the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver.  “My husband and I would like to give a tremendous thank you to the people of Campbell River for helping us in our time of distress with the Sundancer accident.  As we took the long journey down the shaky rope ladder, there were men there to encourage and help us.  Then there were blankets, coffee and more at your hall.  You are to be proud of your people. Again, thanks so much.”

Mrs. L. Goodlive from California sent a letter to City Council, “Please extend our deep gratitude and appreciation to all of the wonderful people in your city who rescued us from the Sundancer in the wee early hours of 6/30/84.  This would include the disaster rescue crew at the gymnasium, the city and school bus drivers, the Royal Mounted and local police, the firemen, and the Royal Canadian Coast Guard, plus others, I’m sure!  All of this must have cost your city a monumental sum of money. If you care to let us know of the volunteer organizations involved we could like to contribute at least our share.  We hope nothing like this will ever happen to Canadians in the U.S., but I can only hope we could be as generous, gracious, sympathetic, and helpful as you Canadians.  Your neighborliness was simply overwhelming.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We hope to visit your lovely city and beautiful island again under more favourable circumstances.”

Ingrid Braren sent a letter addressed to the Rescue Units in Campbell River. In it she says “Tears still come to my eyes as I think of how much I have to be thankful for and part of that thanks goes to all of the people who volunteered their time and services in Campbell River.”

Dorothy Brown from Texas writes “We will always be grateful for the wonderful treatment and care after the Sundancer accident – you couldn’t have done more – you are all wonderful.”

Do you have any memories of the Sundancer you’d like to share?  Let us know. And be sure to make an appointment to stop by the archives if you’d like to learn more about what happened that night.  You can make an appointment by contacting our collections manager Megan Purcell either through email: or by phone, 250-287-3103.

This article is by Erika Anderson and appeared in February 2022 in the Campbell River Mirror.

Museum at Campbell River respectfully acknowledges the Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation, on whose traditional lands we work to preserve, interpret and share the collective human history of North Vancouver Island. The Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation is comprised of the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah First Nations. Our closest neighbors are the Coast Salish Xwemalhkwu, Klahoose and K’ómoks First Nations.

These nations have close connections to the land where Campbell River is located today.

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