Forgotten victims of the Florizel recognized

A ceremony in St. John's called attention to a little-known international connection to the wreck of the SS Florizel.

15 Spanish sailors perished in the 1918 shipwreck

Forgotten victims of one of Newfoundland's worst marine tragedies were formally recognized in St. John's on Friday, reports Emily Brass. 2:15

One of Newfoundland's worst marine tragedies was marked at Mount Carmel Cemetery in St. John's on Friday.

The ceremony called attention to an international connection to the wreck of the SS Florizel that few people know about.

In a shipwreck similar to the Titanic, the Florizel ran aground on the rocks near Cappahayden more than 90 years ago. Nearly a hundred people were sent to their death in the icy swells when the steamship broke apart.

This monument to the Spanish victims of the sinking of the Florizel has been largely unnoticed for decades. CBC

But while it's well known that many prominent Newfoundlanders perished when the Florizel sank in 1918, history nearly forgot about fifteen young Spanish sailors who also died that day.

A priest read their names in a special ceremony attended by Spanish sailors who just finished a fisheries patrol on the Grand Banks.

It was the first time Spanish officials visited the St. John's grave site.

Many of the sailors present were similar in age to those who died onboard the Florizel.

"The sea is sometimes very hard," said Lieutenant Commander Juan Bautista Paya Martinez, who presided over the event. "It's a pity that young men die at sea. But it's our life, it's our life."

Unlike the privileged passengers onboard the Florizel, the Spanish victims were no strangers to hard work. Most of them were 'firemen' — labourers who kept the engine fires burning.

"This was the hardest job on the ship, to be able to stoke the furnaces with coals," said Jean Pierre Andrieux, the Spanish Honorary Consul for Newfoundland and Labrador, who organized the ceremony.

"This was a back-breaking job, so they probably had to have immigrants or foreigners who were willing to do that."

This statue at Bowring Park is a famous local tribute to a victim of the shipwreck. CBC

Forgotten past

The Peter Pan statue in Bowring Park is a tribute to Sir Edgar Bowring's great-granddaughter, who also died in the shipwreck.

But while that icon is a famous local landmark, the monument to the Spanish stokers has stood virtually unnoticed in the cemetery for decades.

It wasn't until a local historian found their names in some old records that they were formally honoured.

"I would like to know the families of these persons in Spain," said Martinez. "Maybe I will try. And I will tell them that we were there, in St. John's, where their families are buried.