For decades this underwater monster in the Strait of Georgia has been wrecking ships, drowning sailors and thwarting all efforts to remove it. Now they’re going to cram it with high explosive and touch off the biggest man-made bang Canada has ever heardMCKENZIE PORTER April 30 1955
For decades this underwater monster in the Strait of Georgia has been wrecking ships, drowning sailors and thwarting all efforts to remove it. Now they’re going to cram it with high explosive and touch off the biggest man-made bang Canada has ever heardMCKENZIE PORTER April 30 1955
SOMETIME in the summer of 1957 the biggest controlled explosion in the history of Canadian engineering will blow two knobs off British Columbia’s notorious Ripple Rock, a gigantic boulder which during the last eighty years has bashed the bottom out of sixteen steamers, capsized scores of small craft and drowned more than a hundred people.
Like a chunk of granite in a logging flume Ripple Rock pokes one of its twin studs to within ten feet and the other within twenty feet of the low-water surface of Seymour Narrows, a natural bottleneck in the Strait of Georgia, that two-hundred-mile channel separating Vancouver Island from the British Columbia mainland.
Twice a day the Strait of Georgia is invaded by Pacific tides charging in from the north through the Queen Charlotte Strait and from the south through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The northern tide must funnel through the two-mile-long and half-mile-wide conduit formed by the steep craggy flanks of Seymour Narrows as they rise to bleak uninhabited uplands on the east coast of Vancouver Island and the west coasts of two other islands—a big one named Quadra and a little one named Maud. Compressed into this gutter, the tide reaches a velocity of seventeen miles an hour and the water level rises by as much as twelve feet.
Choking the free flow of this torrent, Ripple Rock sets up whirlpools, eddies, vertical currents, crosscurrents, combers, rapids, and almost every other form of turbulence known to nautical science. At low water the two highest bumps of Ripple Rock threaten the keels of thousands of craft as they plow along one of the world’s busiest lanes. Mariners call them the worst hazard to navigation on the west coast of North America.
Engineers do not believe that the removal of Ripple Rock’s peaks will slow the current or appreciably diminish the turmoil since the great hulk of the rock will still lie below. But they say the operation will assure a minimum depth of forty feet of water and therefore vessels swept across it will have plenty of clearance.
The artificial earthquake inside Ripple Rock will not pass without protest. Up in the geyser of foam, debris, steam, smoke and fish will go two and a half million dollars of Canadian taxpayers’ money, British Columbia’s last hope of a bridge between Vancouver and Victoria, and one of the most durable bones of contention that ever vexed the federal parliament.
In the thinly settled territory of mountains, forests, islands and bays, fifteen miles north of Campbell River— the most northerly town on the east coast of Vancouver Island—the eruption will stun or stampede bears, cougars and deer, break every closed cabin window for twenty-five miles around, belch up a tidal wave that will pulverize any boat left on nearby beaches, and cover adjacent summits with thousands of sight-seers.
Ideas for knocking out Ripple Rock have ranged from plastering it with array mortars, navy torpedoes and airforce blockbusters to vaporizing it with an atomic bomb. In 1943 and 1945 costly attempts to blow off its two domes—by drilling dynamite holes from a barge tossed wildly on the surface—failed miserably and convinced the federal government that a new approach was necessary. The big bang now being planned will follow two years of tunneling out to the rock from the Maud Island shore, honeycombing Ripple Rock with passages, and stuffing these with five hundred and fifty tons of a new explosive named nitrone.
The reason why Ripple Rock was not attacked until the last war lies in the fact that for more than half a century it was the subject of a bitter argument between British Columbia’s chief cities, Vancouver and Victoria.
Three generations of Vancouver shipowners used nouns like fang, tusk, barb, horn and spike to describe its gouging effect on the underbelly of a ship and metaphors like “a lurking jackal,” “a snake in the grass,” “a sabre-toothed shark,” “a beast of prey,” and “a two-headed monster” to sum up its malignity. But three generations of Victoria industrialists fought equally hard for the rock’s preservation on the grounds that it is the only natural feature in the Strait of Georgia on which a railway bridge could be supported, and as such their one hope of realizing their aspirations for direct connections with the mainland.
Fed Up With a Nightmare
Uncertain which side it was more politic to please, Ottawa debated the pros and cons of the argument from Confederation to World War II. The late Senator Gerry McGeer, a long-time mayor of Vancouver, who was perpetually and vociferously in favor of a government sledge-hammer blow on the rock, put down the delays to “the stultifying influence of canoe-minded eastern bureaucrats.” So hot was feeling in the other camp that the late Thomas Sorby, a Victoria engineer, once threatened to organize a movement for provincial secession from Canada if one nodule on Ripple Rock’s pates was harmed.
The federal government’s vacillation ended in 1942 when the United States, worried about the safety of ammunition ships bound for Alaska and the Aleutians, demanded the decapitation of the two-headed bogey.
Attempts in 1943 and 1945 by the British Columbia Bridge and Dredging Company to drill dynamite holes into Ripple Rock proved a fiasco. The failures raised mingled shouts of Vancouver rage and Victoria glee, wasted nearly a million dollars, and provoked Alphonse Fournier, the harassed Minister of Public Works, to cry in the House of Commons: “I am disgusted with Ripple Rock. Let somebody else deal with it for a change.”
So the rock sat there, a nightmare obstacle to the steamers that carry one hundred and fifty thousand passengers a year from Prince Rupert, B.C., and Ketchikan, Alaska, to Vancouver and Seattle; to the two thousand freighters, bearing cargoes worth thirty million dollars a year; and to the seven thousand tugs, barges and small craft mainly engaged in moving to market the produce of logging, pulping, mining, fishing and canning settlements in fjords all up the coast.
These vessels have to dodge enormous Pacific tides which surge through the narrows like a millrace. Were it not for Ripple Rock the flow would at least be smooth. But the clenched fist of Ripple Rock blocks the middle and turns it into a maelstrom. It’s a submarine knoll, three thousand feet long and fifteen hundred feet thick at its base, tapering as it rises to a ridge more than three hundred feet high. The row of knuckles along its top are almost bare.
Twice a day, for periods lasting between twenty and forty minutes, there is a phase known to mariners as slack tide. One is the high-water slack, the other the low-water slack. It is the moment of pause between the turn of the flood into the ebb tide and vice versa. During this interval the waters in Seymour Narrows become relatively placid. On a calm day, for example, daring men in small boats have sailed right over Ripple Rock and sighted the two highest knuckles as they gleamed, greenish and sinister, below the surface. At low-water slack the knuckles are always within striking distance of the average steamer’s keel. Ships have to sail the narrows during both low and high-water slack as these are the only times when navigation is possible. Even then there are often wind and water forces powerful enough to drive a ship that gets slightly off course up against the rock itself or into the jagged walls of the narrows.
The opportunity to dart through this natural conduit at slack tide rarely lasts for more than half an hour. Every year millions of voyage hours are lost as ships line up to await the critical moment. During some slack tides the traffic is so heavy that in the words of Jack Scott, the Vancouver Sun columnist, “Seymour Narrows become as busy as Granville Street.”
No single major disaster has ever been precipitated by Ripple Rock. In 1946, however, the Vancouver Merchants’ Exchange, an organization of industrial, commercial and shipping interests, pointed out, in a petition to the government asking for a third attempt to blunt the rock, that this was “due solely to the grace of God.” The reminder was superfluous for one year earlier a wreck had occurred which, but for the grace of God, might have wrecked the government itself on the rock of public opinion.
This was the foundering of the Department of Transport’s hydrographic survey ship, James S. Stewart, a floating laboratory worth more than a million dollars, which struck Ripple Rock, ironically enough, when she was checking its charted contours. Among the crew of sixty-five were seven women cooks and stewardesses who’d been signed on to relieve the wartime manpower shortage. All were married and some were mothers. One of them, Bridget Ann Burns, was ironing in her cabin below decks. The impact knocked her off her feet. Then a rush of water made contact with her iron plug and she was knocked down by electric shock. By the time she staggered to the companionway the water was up to her knees and she had been scalded by a plume of steam.
Captain J. J. Moore managed to drive his stricken ship to the shore of the narrows one thousand feet away and ground her. The crew reached dry land only after a desperate struggle.
A few minutes after the crew reached safety the ship was lifted off the bottom by a rising tide. She slipped out into the stream and sank. Thousands of dollars worth of technical equipment was ruined. She is in service again today but it cost a quarter of a million dollars to raise and repair her.
“That wreck,” cried Gerry McGeer, “was the most damning, devastating and inevitable rebuke that ever incarnadined the stony face of officialdom.”
The government was saved from public uproar by wartime censorship and the preoccupation of the Press with approaching victory in Germany. But the government regarded its lesson as salutary and from that day Ripple Rock has been doomed.
The explosion due two summers hence will be based on years of pondering and planning. Captain George Vancouver is believed to have been the first white man to eye the reef. He sailed his ship Discovery through Seymour Narrows in 1792. Modern yachtsmen marvel that such a feat could be accomplished without power. Furthermore, Vancouver’s log suggests that he went up the wrong side of the narrows, the west side, instead of the far safer east side used by today’s steamers. He also seemed just as worried about the hostile Yucalta Indians lining the shores as he was about Ripple Rock and be christened Seymour Narrows Yucalta Narrows after them.
According to Yucalta legends the highest peak of Ripple Rock rose much closer to the surface centuries ago and young braves would show off by standing on it at low tide with the water up to their waists. Contemporary Indians in Campbell River say that the rock vibrated so much under the daredevils’ feet that their cheeks shook. An old Yucalta custom was to take out an unfaithful wife, stand her on the rock, and leave her there to be carried away by the rising tide.
A story in Campbell River is that Ripple Rock’s first victim among white men’s ships was a Russian man-of-war in the days when Russia owned Alaska. But records of wrecks do not begin until 1875, thirty years after the narrows had been renamed for Sir William Seymour, a Royal Navy commander at Esquimalt, the naval base on Vancouver Island. In that year two U. S. warships, Saranac and Wachusetts, both manning a hundred guns, smacked into Ripple Rock one after the other and sank in the seventy-foot-deep saddle between the two summits. In 1884, the third and last warship to hit Ripple Rock came along. She was the Royal Navy vessel Satellite. The captain managed to beach her and save the crew.
Among the officers was Midshipman B. M. Chambers, who, sixty-two years later, when he had risen to the rank of admiral, wrote: “I recall Satellite steaming up at a speed of thirteen knots and getting caught in the swirling torrent of Seymour Narrows like a chip in a gutter. We were swept into the very centre of the pass. I saw the upright waves above Ripple Rock seemingly rush toward us. I felt the ship heel over as her keel caught the top of the rock. For a moment we hung. Then we were free with the loss of forty feet of our false bottom. With that memory in mind I shall never believe that engineers can attack the rock successfully from the surface of the water.”
It was Admiral Chambers’ letter, written in 1946 to the Vancouver Province from his home in Chagford, Devonshire, England, that did much to persuade the government to tackle the rock by tunneling underneath it.
Between Chambers’ experience in Satellite, and Bridget Burns’ experience in the James S. Stewart, the following big vessels became partial or total wrecks through colliding with Ripple Rock or being driven ashore by currents glancing off it: 1900: Amurand Spokane; 1902: Bonita; 1906: Thetis; 1916: Princess Maquinna; 1919: Princess Ena; 1920: Prince George; 1929: Greylock and Aleutian; 1943: Donna Lane; 1944: Lakima.
The Lakima, an American ship, was carrying a hundred servicemen from wartime stations in Alaska and the Aleutians. All of them owe their lives to Milton Adams and his wife, a cheerful middle-aged couple who keep a hunting and fishing resort on a lonely shore of Plumper Bay, just north of Seymour Narrows.
As she entered the narrows from Plumper Bay the Lakima was picked up by a current and carried beam on into Ripple Rock, which shaved off her rudder and propeller. Another current washed her onto the Vancouver Island shore where she lay in danger of breaking up. In answer to a telephone SOS from the Campbell River RCMP—a common event in their lives—the Adamses raced out in their powerful launch through a heavy rainstorm and removed the passengers in relays. The rescue took more than two hours.
Even then their work wasn’t finished. The Adamses threw a line to the stern of the Lakima and, by racing the engine of their launch, managed to keep the big ship at right angles to the shore and thus half afloat. When the tide turned north and lifted the Lakima’s bows off the beach, the Adamses, with the help of the northbound current, managed to tow the big ship to a beach in Plumper Bay, where she was salvaged.
Milt Adams has lost count of the small-boat navigators he and his wife have rescued. “Must be around twenty,” he says. Once two American anglers ventured into the narrows in a small outboard, jousted with a couple of back eddies, then hastily landed on a remote beach. The Adamses saw their signal fire and brought them into their resort for the night. Next day, against Adams’ advice, they decided to try to make their way back through the narrows. That night the Adamses saw another signal fire. This time, instead of bringing the Americans to their resort, they conveyed them in stony silence to Campbell River.
The only fisherman known to have survived a voyage right over Ripple Rock at high tide is Campbell River’s Gus Clements. It was about ten years ago when he was new to the district and foolish enough to ask a garage hand whether the tide was okay for passage through Seymour Narrows. The garage hand consulted the tide book, an item in nearly every Campbell River home, but looked up the wrong month.
Clements, who was bound north, set off at dusk. He was alone. He intended to go up the east side of the channel as he at least knew that was safer. When he was crossing the southern mouth of the narrows he found his boat was not answering the helm.
“I looked ahead,” he says, “and everything looked calm. But when I looked to port I saw that the land was fairly racing by. Suddenly I realized I was going downhill. I was sliding down a long black slick of water as smooth and shiny as a paved highway on a rainy day.”
At this moment he got panicky and switched off his engine. “That saved my life,” he says. Ahead of him he then saw a wall of water about twenty feet high with a foaming crest on the top. “My boat wallowed right through it,” he says. “If my engine had been going she’d have smashed up.” Unlike most fishing boats, Clements’ was a self-bailer. She was equipped with scuppers above the waterline through which any seas she shipped ran out again. “I thanked God for that,” he says.
Clements hung on tight as the boat tossed up and down and spun dizzily. He gaped in horror as three big whirlpools slipped by. Then the boat entered a long choppy stretch and bumped like a truck on a corduroy road. “When she ran into smooth water I couldn’t believe I was alive,” he says. “I had to lie down for a while in the bottom of the boat and I remember putting my hand on my heart to stop it from thumping.”
Clements reckons that in his ten years at Campbell River about twenty men have been lost in Seymour Narrows. “They get into a whirlpool,” he says, “and it just sucks them down. The pools caused by the crazy currents are between twenty and thirty feet across and the sides are so steep and fast turning that they’re about fifteen feet deep in the middle.”
A Half Dozen Dunkings
It was a whirlpool that swallowed nine men in a single gulp in March 1945. They were in a thirty-five-foot gas boat commanded by Bob Blaine, an experienced ex-navy man. The boat slipped into a whirlpool and after circling dizzily for a few seconds disappeared stern first into the vortex like a fingerling being swallowed by a pike.
Ned Nielson and Bill Mohlan, of Vancouver, survived by grabbing the wire rigging of the mast. Underwater, according to Mohlan, they were spun round and round as the boat rotated. “I could see the others,” he told friends, “being flung away, all arms and legs, in every direction.”
Finally the boat rose to the surface in a rip tide and began to roll over and over sideways on to the current, her mast rising from the water, describing an arc, then plunging under again. Nielson and Mohlan, still clinging to the rigging, were lifted clear of the water and dunked half a dozen times before the swamped craft drifted into calm water and another boat picked them up. The bodies of their companions were never found. All except Blaine, the owner of the boat, were employed by the British Columbia Bridge and Dredging Company.
It was this firm which made the first two attempts to remove the hazard of Ripple Rock, in 1943 and 1945. All through the Thirties the B. C. government had been weighing the demands from Victoria for a railway bridge between Vancouver Island and the mainland, using Ripple Rock as a steppingstone. Vancouver City MPs accused the government of a “tongue-in-cheek” policy. Two royal commissions, set up to investigate the possibility of demolishing the rock had been called “electioneering stunts.” After Pearl Harbor, when the traffic through the narrows was thickened by American vessels bound for the Aleutians and Alaska with troops and munitions, the U. S. asked Canada to remove Ripple Rock. The University of Washington in Seattle built a scale model of Seymour Narrows and demonstrated how time and again model ships foundered on a model Ripple Rock.
In 1942 the Department of Public Works called for tenders for the removal of the rock but nobody bid for the contract, so formidable was the task. Eventually the B. C. Bridge and Dredging Company was assigned to the job on a “cost plus” basis. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was voted for the job.
The first idea was to anchor a barge over Ripple Rock, drill dynamite holes into the two domes at slack water, then blow off pieces until a depth of thirty feet had been achieved. The barge, which had to be specially built, cost one hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Then four huge anchors of concrete, weighing between one hundred and fifty and two hundred and thirty-five tons, had to be molded and sunk. Throughout the summer of 1943 attempts were made to bore holes in the rock. But on an average of once every forty-eight hours the barge’s steel anchor cables snapped like string and little progress was made.
It was suspected by federal government engineers that the flow from Canoe Pass, a narrow and shallow gulf separating Quadra Island from Maud Island, was responsible for helping to tear the barge off its mark. So another one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars was voted to dam it up. This made no difference to the force of the current striking the barge. All it did was raise an outcry among ships’ captains that bucking the northbound ebb tide was now more difficult than ever.
An additional three hundred thousand dollars was voted to string cables across the narrows from Vancouver Island to Maud Island to reinforce the grip of the barge over Ripple Rock. These were two inches thick, three thousand five hundred feet long, and eleven tons each in weight. They were supported above the water by two-hundred-foot-high Douglas fir poles. And when the barge was attached to them by other cables, as well as to the anchors and points on shore, she could be held in place. But it was two years before they were ready and drilling could be resumed.
During the summer of 1945 only one hundred and twenty dynamite holes out of the fifteen hundred believed necessary to make a deep enough dent in Ripple Rock were drilled. Many of the drilled holes were never even fired because, when the barge pulled away to avoid the coming explosion, the wires carrying the electrical contact were tugged with such force by the tide that they often yanked the cannisters of explosive out of the holes. It was impossible to find the same holes again and new drilling, at the laborious rate of about a foot an hour, had to be started.
Even after a successful explosion the debris, instead of falling away into the deep channels on either side of Ripple Rock, clung, for some unforeseen reason, to the top, and actually aggravated the turbulence.
Fishermen sent angry deputations to the provincial parliament claiming that the explosions were killing millions of salmon during the annual run and that Seymour Narrows were more treacherous than ever.
“Ripple Rock,” moaned the Hon. Alphonse Fournier, federal Minister of Public Works, admitting to the House of Commons that nearly a million dollars had been spent uselessly, “hangs round our necks like the Old Man of the Sea.”
Still thinking in terms of chiseling the bulk down from the top, the Department of Public Works offered one million eight hundred thousand dollars to any company that would guarantee a completed job. Nobody was interested. For seven years the Department of Public Works considered scores of ideas for pulverizing the rock. One proposal, that hundreds of surplus RCAF wartime bombs be dropped on Ripple Rock, was rejected for fear the pilots’ aim might be inaccurate. Another idea, for firing naval torpedoes at the rock, was turned down because the currents might turn them off their target and cause them to sink steamers miles away. It was suggested that the army should wear down the rock with mortar bombs but this too was deemed impractical.
Senator McGeer asked, “Why not drop an atom bomb on it?” The National Research Council jumped into the picture and explained that such a solution might be feasible were it not for the fact that a wall of water at least a hundred feet high would surge down the Strait of Georgia and swamp the city of Vancouver.
Jim Lubzinski, a fourth-year physics student at the University of British Columbia, came up with a plan considered so important that it was published by the university press. This was to lower a caisson—a big steel cylinder—and attach its bottom to the rock by freezing. The water would then be pumped out of the caisson and permit drilling from a dry bed. The freezing mixture that would hold the caisson to the rock was to consist of ethyl alcohol and solidified carbon dioxide (dry ice).
Since men’s lives would be at stake in the caisson the Department of Public Works refused to put its faith in ice.
Meanwhile Alphonse Fournier had been pestered in the House so much that one day he exploded: “I have financed Ripple Rock for quite a while and I am not going to finance it any more. I am disgusted with Ripple Rock.”
“It took me a whole year,” he continued, “to convince members that we are trying to spend money on a rock that is immovable. I am not going to touch it again if I can help it. Let somebody else handle it for once.”
“It will soon be on your doorstep again,” Howard Green MP (Vancouver-Quadra) predicted.
When the Minister of Public Works made one of his periodic visits to Seymour Narrows in a boat, the Vancouver Sun ran a caustic headline: “Sleep Well, Mister Fournier!”
Council’s Toughest Job
By the time Robert Winters became Minister of Public Works in 1953 another idea was running through the minds of the anti-Ripple Rock group. They were beginning to believe that proposals put forward in 1946 by Admiral Chambers, the man who’d been wrecked as a boy in HMS Satellite, were not as fantastic as they had once sounded.
Chambers, who had spent many years as a junior officer studying Seymour Narrows in the Royal Navy survey vessel, Nymphe, wrote to the Vancouver Province: “With modern apparatus the cost of drilling under the rock can be estimated accurately. To run a passage beneath the narrows . . . not as large as a railway tunnel, would be a simple matter to engineers. A chamber could be excavated below the rock to accommodate the high explosive required. Then at the height of the spring tide the charge could be detonated and the job would be done.”
The National Research Council was asked to investigate the feasibility of tunneling à la Chambers. E. W. R. Steacie, the council’s president, said the problem was “one of the toughest the council had ever been called upon to handle.”
First a peep at the rock was gained with an underwater TV camera. Then the council called for a preliminary drilling to determine the nature of the substrata below Seymour Narrows and Ripple Rock. This meant boring clown from Maud Island at a shallow angle, then making the hole curve under the bed of the stream and upwards into the rock.
The job was given in 1953 to Boyles Brothers, of Vancouver, a world famous diamond-drilling concern which today has men on five continents boring for oil, chemicals and minerals. They used an orthodox drill which bored a hole just under two inches in diameter. As the drill bit into the rock a core was extruded up through the collar of the hole and this geologists were able to examine.
Starting well back on Maud Island in September they managed to get a drill spinning at an angle of thirty-three degrees so that it would get under the rock at a depth of about four hundred feet. The drill kept trying to go downward and this tendency had to be checked by using eight-foot-long wedges as the hole progressed. The wedges, complicated special tools, cost five hundred dollars each. They were not recoverable. Altogether fifty-five of them were inserted into the ground.
Then, to make sure they were keeping direction, the drillers had to poke a special compass down the hole on a long copper rod. Although it was only as big as a wrist watch the compass cost eight hundred dollars. After nuzzling at the end of the hole for ten minutes a card was automatically lifted off the compass needle giving a correct bearing.
The drillers started one hole and got to a length of 1,212 feet with an expenditure of fifteen wedges. After three wedges had broken off in the same spot, one after another, it was decided to start another hole. The second hole went out to a length of 2,334 feet and the engineers were successful in making the drill turn slightly upwards into the rock.
Eight diamond drillers were at work all through the rough winter of 1953-54, living on Maud Island in tents that were constantly whipped and torn by high winds tunneling through the narrows. On one occasion the wind plucked the cook away from his stove and tossed him forty feet over rocks. He grabbed a clump of scrub and just saved himself from being blown into the water.
Cores from the drilling were inspected by geologists of the National Research Council and it was found, as was hoped, that there were no dangerous faults or porous sections in the substrata which would endanger a tunnel from falls or flooding.
Early this year Victor Dolmage, a B. C. geologist who worked on the Kitimat project for the Aluminum Company of Canada, was appointed to take charge of the final assault on Ripple Rock. He got out specifications of the tunnel and, at this writing, is waiting to hear which construction company has been awarded the contract.
The tunnel will start from a point near the shore on Maud Island, about fifty feet above the water level. First a vertical shaft, eight feet by sixteen feet, will be sunk to a depth of four hundred and fifty feet, or fifty feet below the bed of the narrows. Then a horizontal tunnel, eight feet by eight feet, will be driven out under the bed for about a thousand feet to a point midway between Ripple Rock’s two domes. From here two inclined shafts will be burrowed up into the domes. Then each dome will be riddled with passages to contain the explosive.
The nitrone to be used is a powerful new' powder less sensitive than other explosives, developed by Canadian Industries Limited. It can be packed in cans, it withstands dampness and will not run the risk of being neutralized by leaks through the rock. Another advantage is that it gives off no fumes. Although only one half pound of nitrone is normally used in ordinary blasting to remove each cubic yard of rock, CIL has recommended up to ten pounds per cubic yard in the case of Ripple Rock. With a two-and-a-half-million-dollar investment in the tunnel at stake, no chances can be taken.
The primer cord leading up to the detonation of the nitrone will be carried a mile away from the entrance to the tunnel to save the engineer who pushes down the handle from being stoned by his own explosion.
When that handle goes down the burst will be heard fifty miles away and local Canadians will be treated to the most awesome spectacle since Halifax Harbor blew up in 1917. Residents within a radius of twenty-five miles will be ordered to open all their windows and to stand clear of glassware. Troops will be called out to control spectators on vantage points and help the police close off certain roads. It has been estimated that at least fifty-five thousand dollars will have to be put aside for paying off or fighting property-damage claims.
Many will resent the explosion. Roderick Haig-Brown, the Campbell River angling author and magistrate, objects on the grounds that blowing up Ripple Rock is an interference with the architecture of nature. “It’s always been there,” he says, “and it should always stay there. The only ships that get into trouble are what we call ‘green ships,’ handled by inexperienced masters. If it’s treated with respect Ripple Rock is not so monstrous. We should leave it alone and try to go along with it.”
Much to the amusement of engineers, Billy Roberts, a Campbell River fisherman, says that if the rock is removed the current will flow through Seymour Narrows twice as fast because there will be nothing to brake it. “Then,” he adds, “nobody will be able to sail through at all.”
But the only objection the Department of Public Works is reputed to have considered seriously is that put forward by a U. S. admiral. Visiting Ottawa he said: “Why, if you remove Ripple Rock you will remove the only natural obstacle to enemy submarines between the entrance to the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver. What will you do if war breaks out?”
At which, according to Vancouver engineering circles, a department official rubbed his chin and answered: “Well, I guess we’ll just have to put it back.”