SS Uzbekistan, Darling River

SS Uzbekistan, Darling River

by | May 28, 2022

Darling River flows generally south for 6 miles (10 km) from heavily logged interior forests of southwestern Vancouver Island, through the coastal strip of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to the site of the Russian SS Uzbekistan shipwreck, about 31 miles (50 km) northwest of Port Renfrew and 9 miles (15 km) south-southeast of Bamfield, British Columbia. At the coast, the river cascades over a cliff about 10-13 feet (3-4 m) high into a pool, and then across a narrow incised wave-cut platform to the Pacific Ocean. The upper part of the Darling River watershed is underlain by rocks of the Wrangellia terrane that consists mainly of Early Paleozoic to Mesozoic igneous and sedimentary rocks accreted to the North American margin in Jurassic to middle Cretaceous time on the geological time scale. The terrane was intruded by magma during the Jurassic resulting in a belt of plutonic rock called the Westcoast Crystalline Complex that occurs along the coast and is composed mainly of amphibolite, diorite, and migmatite. The rocks exposed along the coast as cliffs, wave-cut platforms, and reefs are part of the Carmanah Group, a marine sedimentary deposit of the Eocene to Late Oligocene that overlies the Wrangellia terrane. It generally covers no more than 0.6 miles (1 km) inland and ranges in elevation from below sea level to less than 330 feet (100 m). The wave-cut platform at the mouth of the Darling River is formed by energetic waves eroding the cliff face causing an undercut between the high and low water elevations. Erosion is mainly a result of abrasion, corrosion, and hydraulic action, creating an undercut or notch at the base of the sea cliff. Waves erosion undermines the cliff until the overhang can no longer support the weight and it collapses resulting in the cliff retreating landward. The base of the cave forms the wave-cut platform as attrition causes the collapsed material to be broken down into smaller pieces, while some cliff material may be washed into the sea. The platform continues eroding in the surf zone and is eventually incised by surge channels creating separated ledges and isolated reefs.

The Nuu-chah-nulth people have inhabited the area for more than 4,000 years, and their traditional territory extended along the majority of the west coast of Vancouver Island and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Makah tribal lands on the western tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The Ditidaht are a tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth with a traditional territory between Bonilla Point to the east and Pachena Point to the west. The eastern boundary corresponds with the boundary of the Pacheedaht tribe at Port Renfrew, with whom the Ditidaht share close cultural, kinship, and linguistic ties. The Huu-ay-aht are the neighboring tribe to the west at Anacla in Pachena Bay. The term ‘Ditidaht’ translates into English as the ‘people of diitiida’, a historical village located at the mouth of Jordan River in what is now Pacheedaht territory. As was the case for other indigenous people in North America who did not have immunity to a number of epidemic diseases introduced by Europeans, massive depopulation occurred among the Ditidaht during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Internecine warfare, stimulated by the introduction of European weapons and trade, further contributed to population loss and a process of amalgamation as some Ditidaht bands disappeared and others merged together. In 1855, Peter Francis and William E. Banfield, who were traders based on the west coast of Vancouver Island, estimated the remaining population of Ditidaht was about 800. In 1859, Governor James Douglas appointed Banfield a Government Agent for the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, and the following year, he followed up with a census of the indigenous adult male population of the region and listed 200 Ditidaht men. During the 1890s, Methodist mission schools were established in Whyac and Clo-oose, and many Ditidaht children were taken to the Alberni Indian Residential School which operated from 1890 to 1973. By the mid-20th century, most of the remaining Ditidaht resided at either Clo-oose or the neighboring village of Whyac about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the northwest at the outlet of Nitinat Lake on Nitinat Narrows.

SS Uzbekistan was a steel steamship of 2,569 tons, built in 1937 in France as part of the lend-lease program during World War II when the U.S. shipped war materials to Russia. On April 1st, 1943, Uzbekistan and SS Lamut departed from Portland, Oregon for Seattle to pick up a load of war materials destined for Vladivostok and encountered stormy weather and bad visibility. The ships had cleared Columbia River around mid-day when a strong southeast breeze gradually increased to a gale of 55 knots (102 kph) by 9 pm that evening. At 10 pm, the Lamut was driven ashore at Teahwit Head on the Olympic Peninsula. The crew of Uzbekistan mistook the light at Swiftsure Bank for the light at Umatilla Reef and steered toward what was thought to be the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but because of the strong northerly current, the ship was much farther north. At 11 pm, Uzbekistan struck the rocky shelf about 55 miles (89 km) farther north at the Darling River. At 4 am the next morning, the ship was located by the U.S. Coast Guard out of Neah Bay, but little could be done during the storm and high waves except illuminate the area with parachute flares. A landing party made up of crew from the Ca­nadian minesweeper HMCS Outarde out of Esquimault, manned a whale boat under the command of Lietuenant Gordon Draeseke and proceded towards shore. The whale boat was successful in making the run through the surf but was damaged while landing on the rock platform. The Russian crew assisted in pullig the boat out of the water and then the entire crew made it to shore safely and the next day walked to Bamfield where they were eventually picked up by a Royal Canadian Navy ship. The wreck was abandoned and eventually broke up and pieces were scattered along the shoreline. Today, the ship’s boilers and parts of the propulsion machinery can still be seen at very low tides at the edge of the reef, and pieces of steel can be found around the mouth of Darling River. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Darling River here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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