The Empress of Ireland Museum is the latest addition to the Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Site near Rimouski, Quebec, which includes the Onondaga submarine and the 1909 Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse.
Due largely to the spectacular sinking of Titanic two years earlier, and the gruesome spectre of World War 1, her fate remains relatively unknown to most of us, but the sinking of the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Empress of Ireland is one of Canada’s worst marine disasters.
She was a figurehead of the great age of the transatlantic liner; a symbol of luxury, speed and industrial progress. In a spacious decor of rich woodwork and fireplaces, first class passengers were offered a music and writing room, a café, a library and a smoking room. No cabin had a number ending in 13. The Empress of Ireland was also one of the jewels of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s intermodal transportation system linking a young Canada to the great cities of Europe and Asia.
“Twenty knots to Canada”
The Empress of Ireland and her sister ship Empress of Britain were advertised as “Twenty knots to Canada”. They were the fastest ships making the trans-Atlantic run to Canadian ports at the time. Twenty knots was the speed needed to compete with the Red Star Line, the Hamburg-America Line, the Cunard Line, the White Star Line and other passenger ship companies.
The remains of the Empress of Ireland rest on her starboard flank on the bottom of the Saint Lawrence River not far from Rimouski, Quebec. She sank fast, at night, in the fog after a collision with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad on May 29, 1914.
“I don’t think you should run into much fog for the rest of the night.
Good luck commander.”
– the ominous, parting words of pilot Adélard Bernier to Captain Henry George Kendall, May 29, 1914 around 1:20 a.m., less than an hour before the collision.
The water was cold and the current swift, and most of the passengers were still getting used to their new accommodations below deck. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 were lost. With multi-media displays and objects recovered from the ship itself, the new museum does a good job of giving us an idea of what it might have been like.
For some Canadian families the Empress of Ireland story has always been more important than Titanic. Aboard her that night were 167 members of the Canadian Staff Band of The Salvation Army, who were traveling to London for an international conference. All but eight of them perished, almost decimating the Salvation Army in Canada. There is still an annual service held at Mount Pleasant cemetery, in the Salvation Army plot, in Toronto, for living Canadians to remember grandparents lost that night long ago.
Further reading and info:
Beautiful coffee table book: Canadian Pacific: Creating a Brand, Building a Nation
Article from The Financial Post: How marketing the Canadian Pacific Railway built — and branded a nation
I came across this interesting book: Losing the Empress by David Creighton
Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Site: http://www.shmp.qc.ca/
More from the Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Site: http://www.empress2014.ca/