Tyson’s Thoughts: Queen of the North Memories

Gazette Editor Tyson Whitney reflects on his summer spent working on the Queen of the North.

I worked on the Queen of the North for a summer before it sank.

Living on the boat with the crew was incredibly hilarious due to all the behind the scenes drama/hijinks I saw (none of which is eligible for print without me worrying about getting sued), while my job itself was fairly dull as all I did was sit at a desk and book hotels for random tourists.

I would travel the inside passage between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert for six days straight, then have four days off to recuperate before doing the cycle all over again.

I met a lot of cool crew members during my time spent living on that boat, and the money helped pay for a year of tuition and books at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, so I will always be indebted to them and the Port Hardy Chamber for that.

Ironically (I hope I’m using irony correctly here, if not feel free to call me Alanis Morrisette), I was literally the only person on the ferry who didn’t partake in the early morning emergency training drills, because I never thought the Queen of the North would ever actually sink.

I slept peacefully in my comfy bed while the entire crew was hard at work practicing what to do in case the worst happened.

Nowadays I just like to stare at the Queen of the North postcard I have on my desk, think back to when I was 22 years old, and wonder what exactly could have happened to make the ferry sink to the bottom of the ocean.

I read Colin Henthorne’s book “The Queen of the North Disaster” and interviewed him last year about the whole ordeal, though I can’t remember if I ever actually met him in person while I was working on the ship. I’m assuming I must have at some point, because I would have to go upstairs to the bridge every day to use the satellite phone to book people their hotel rooms.

In any case, I think the most pertinent part of the whole interview with Colin was when he told me dealing with the experience had been “an exercise in living with anger and trying to let it go, trying to not let it eat me up. I’ve reached a point now where something will remind me of it and I’ll get angry, but I know the anger’s not going to destroy me. I try to just let it wash over me.”

I’m also pretty sure I talked to the infamous Karl Lilgert just once during that entire summer, and it was very briefly in the TV room while I was on a travelling day back home (when my tour of duty ended in Prince Rupert, I would travel for free back down the inside passage to Port Hardy, where I would spend the whole trip eating ice cream and watching satellite TV).

Lilgert seemed like a normal guy with no issues.

I guess the metaphor to use here is everyone has demons hidden underneath their floorboards that are lying in wait to show themselves, before inevitably coming out to drag you down to the bottom of the ocean.

Did Lilgert’s demons sink the Queen of the North and cause the deaths of Gerald Foisey and Shirley Rosette?

I don’t know, I was only on board for the summer.

While the BC Supreme Court deemed he was at fault and upheld his conviction on two counts of causing death by criminal negligence, I honestly don’t think anyone will ever know the real story behind what caused one of the biggest tragedies in BC Ferries history.

Meanwhile, I’ll just continue to stare at my postcard and wonder.

Check out www.northislandgazette.com every Thursday for more Tyson’s Thoughts.

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