Nfld. & Labrador

100th anniversary of Florizel tragedy marked at Admiralty House Communications Museum

In a shipwreck similar to the Titanic, the S.S. Florizel ran aground on the rocks near Cappahayden at 5 a.m. on Feb. 24, 1918.

94 people perished in one of N.L.'s worst marine disasters

In the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 1918, the S.S. Florizel ran aground near Cappahayden. (Admiralty House and Communications Museum Facebook page)

​February 24 marks a dark day in Newfoundland and Labrador's marine history.

When the S.S. Florizel ran aground on the rocks near Cappahayden in 1918, 94 people died when icy swells broke the steamship apart.

There were 138 passengers and crew members on board when the passenger liner departed St. John's harbour the previous day, headed to Halifax and New York City.

There was nothing to suggest that trip would be anything other than routine.

The ship sailed through the Narrows and headed south to Cape Race, as it had done many times  — but the Florizel never made it there.

While en route from St. John's to Halifax and New York City, the liner ran aground near Cappahayden. (Admiralty House and Communications Museum Facebook page)

At 5 a.m. on Feb. 24, blizzard-like conditions and some miscommunication between the bridge and the engine room caused the vessel to crash.

According to the Admiralty House Communications Museum, "only hours after the S.S. Florizel left St. John's, the urgent sound of Morse code was plucked out of the air by the long receiving wire antennas perched high up on the 305 foot towers above the Marconi station in Mount Pearl and heard by the wireless operator."

"Dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit: S.O.S." The message came in with no pause for confirmation: "S.O.S., S.O.S., S.O.S. Florizel ashore near Cape Race. Fast going to pieces."

The shipwreck and loss of life remains one of this province's worst marine disasters.

New exhibit in Mount Pearl

A new exhibit opened at the museum in Mount Pearl Friday night, commemorating the tragedy's 100th anniversary.

Lynn McShane, the eldest grandchild of Tom Kean of Renews, told CBC News her grandfather and a group of friends went to the wreck site that day to help any survivors, but she said very little could be done.

"Bodies kept being thrown on land ... and he and his friends took 14 bodies themselves to the Cappahayden station where they could be returned to their loved ones," McShane said.

"It was just a scene of total devastation. All the people in all the communities all around were doing their best to help, but as we say, 94 people did perish unfortunately." 

The new exhibit is called Faces of the Florizel.

The land that Admiralty House is situated on in Mount Pearl is the former site of a wireless station that received signals from vessels in distress. 

It was at that station that that the Florizel's SOS was received.

Lynn McShane is the granddaughter of a man who tried to help the survivors of the Florizel disaster. (CBC)

With files from Jane Adey and The Broadcast