Windows throughout the downtown core were shattered after three massive explosions rocked the city. The Second World War was still being fought and many immediately assumed it was a Japanese attack. Instead, the explosions were caused after a fire broke out on the S.S. Greenhill Park, a freighter docked at the Canadian Pacific Railway’s dock near what is now Waterfront Station, laden with barrels of alcohol, lumber and 85 tonnes of sodium chlorate.
Eight longshoremen were killed and 19 other workers injured. An inquiry commission determined two months later that the initial blaze was likely caused after someone carelessly disposed of a lit match.
The heavily damaged ship was later towed to the North Shore, where she was repaired and sailed away the following year as the S.S. Phaex II under the new ownership of a Greek company. She was eventually sold for scrap in 1967.
The theory that a dropped match was the cause of the blaze was given credence in 1980 after historian Chuck Davis received a letter from a man who said he had heard the deathbed confession of a man who was there at the time the fire broke out. He claimed longshoremen had been siphoning off liquor from the barrels and a fair bit of booze had leaked into the confined space. When a co-worker lit a match to see better, the room caught fire and the man narrowly escaped with his life.
The disaster has since been commemorated in a song by Vancouver band The Matinee called “The Sinking of the Greenhill Park.”