TIME - SPACE - EQUATION - Ripple Rock and my baby pictures

Leonard Lea Frazer

Aerial view of Ripple Rock in the Seymour Narrows prior to blasting, taken by Charles Jones, Vancouver Daily Province, 1957 - Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
Aerial view of Ripple Rock in the Seymour Narrows prior to blasting, taken by Charles Jones, Vancouver Daily Province, 1957 - Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
Ripple Rock, located in Seymour Narrows, near Campbell River, at one time was the cause of major concern. The rock itself was actually the top of a submerged coastal mountain. This geographical formation is apparently common on the scoured Vancouver Island coastline and many similar peaks still exist under the ocean.
Unfortunately one of the two peaks of Ripple Rock was nine feet under the surface at low tide. As the two peaks were 30 meters apart only a narrow passage was left available for vessels to navigate through.

During his 1792-1795 voyage of discovery, Caption George Vancouver noted that Seymour Narrows was “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.” Between 1875 and 1958 Ripple rock claimed 120 vessels and over 110 lives. The tidal current at the narrows ran faster than 10 knots and pulled sideways across the submerged peaks, which created deadly whirlpools that sucked boats onto the rocks. Once disabled by the submerged obstacles, ships would then be carried by the strong current into deeper water where they would sink. The steamship USS Sarnac became the first vessel to sink, in 1875, as a result of hitting Ripple Rock.

Because Seymour Narrows was on a prominent transportation route, during the early 1900s the BC Government was pressured into doing several feasibility studies to solve the Ripple Rock problem.

The first attempt to remove some of the rock took place in 1943. The BC Government sent a drilling rig, on a barge, to the site where drilling could begin and explosive charges put in place. The one-inch thick steel cables which anchored the huge barge over Ripple Rock continually broke, making drilling impossible. Another attempt was made in 1945 but the tidal flow prevented any attempt to drill.

Ripple Rock in Seymour Narrows, pre explosion. Photo by Sherwood Lett, Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
Ripple Rock in Seymour Narrows, pre explosion. Photo by Sherwood Lett, Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
In 1953, the same year I was born, the National Research Council of Canada came up with a plan that included making a vertical mining shaft on the nearby Maud Island, tunnelling under the seabed and another two shafts coming up into the middle of the peaks of Ripple Rock. This plan would avoid interference from the tidal currents of Seymour Narrows.

During the time the National Research Council’s plan was being implemented I arrived home from the Lion’s Gate Hospital and took up residence as a little baby at my family’s home on Chesterfield Street in North Vancouver. My four-year-old brother and Mom and Dad lived next-door to Bill Dennett, an award-winning photographer, who worked at the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

Although I have no memory of Mr. Dennett visiting our house, it’s plain that he did. I have several photographs and newspaper clipping from “The Vancouver Sun” which are credited to him. Once, when I was just a few months old, he took a series of black and white photos (I still have the 4x5 negatives) of me sitting in my highchair, dressed only in homemade flannelette diapers, eating a bowlful of prunes. The photographs capture my ever-changing facial expressions including one of disgust when I discovered a pit in one of the prunes.

At nine months I was photographed sitting inside a huge pumpkin wearing a black pointed witch’s hat. That photo appeared in the Vancouver Sun on Halloween day 1953. Other photos by Mr. Dennett to appear in the same paper were of me standing and balancing in one of my father’s hands and a summertime shot of my brother drinking water out of the end of a garden hose.

Mr. Dennett had a long career as a news photographer and shot thousands of photographs of events and personalities in the Vancouver Area.

Meanwhile, up near Campbell River, at Ripple Rock, work began in 1955. After 27 months of labouring around the clock, a mineshaft with an elevator, a horizontal tunnel with a railroad and vertical shafts up into the Ripple Rock peaks were made. Inside a network of tunnels 1375 pounds of Nitramex 2H explosives were packed and made ready to go.

The RCMP cleared everyone away from the area in a three mile radius, official government photos were taken of prominent buildings in Campbell River (for possible insurance claim purposes), government officials, demolition engineers, news reporters and photographers took their positions in a special bunker and the countdown began. The CBC Television was present in the viewing–bunker along with photographer Bill Dennett, who had been sent on assignment from the Vancouver Sun.

At 9:31 am on April 5, 1958, Ripple Rock exploded into the history books. With over 370,000 tons of rock hurling into the air, the event became the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world, a record that still stands.

The demolition of Ripple Rock was shown coast to coast by CBC in one of the first national television broadcasts ever. Mr. Dennett’s photos for the Vancouver Sun were shot with a focal plane camera, perhaps the same one he used to shoot my baby pictures. His photos of the 1958 explosion are featured at the Campbell River Museum, along with a documentary showing all the work that went into preparation for the blast and the CBC footage. Photos and video may also be viewed at the Museum’s website.

Today the Seymour Narrows is a safe shipping and transport corridor despite a treacherous tidal current running through it. The remains of Ripple Rock now lie some 45 feet below the surface.  

Diagram showing a cross-section of Ripple Rock, pre-explosion.
Diagram showing a cross-section of Ripple Rock, pre-explosion.
Ripple Rock explosion with clouds forming – April 5, 1958. Photo by Sherwood Lett, Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
Ripple Rock explosion with clouds forming – April 5, 1958. Photo by Sherwood Lett, Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
  Ripple Rock Explosion - with cloud obscuring landscape. Photo by Sherwood Lett, Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.
Ripple Rock Explosion - with cloud obscuring landscape. Photo by Sherwood Lett, Vancouver City Archives - Public domain.