Canada’s Titanic: The Empress of Ireland, May 29, 1914

David Lawlor’s excellent history-with-a-twist blog is reposted below, with my own comments here:

The cat knew! Amazing how animals (rats, sinking ships) sense trouble ahead. Earthquakes, I understand, maybe, but two ships in the fog – hmmm, I might pay more attention now when our cat is suddenly spooked. With the centennial of Canada’s own “Titanic” on May 29, I hope more people will pay attention to the ill-fated Empress of Island. Gordon Lightfoot, the composer and singer known as Canada’s national treasure, gave us a ballad on The Wreck of  the Edmund Fitzgerald, so everyone has heard of that shipwreck–but even most Canadians don’t know about the Empress.

The horror of the Empress disaster was  front page news in 1914, but weeks later attention had shifted to the outbreak of the World War I. (Today’s politicians tend to throw a war as a distraction from bad news at home, but that’s another blog topic.) 

EXCERPT: A front-page story in the Toronto Sunday World on June 2, 1914, described the “butchery” of the mad scramble to escape the lower decks. The headline read: Steerage Passengers Slain by Comrades in Scramble for Life; Wounds of Victims Tell Tale of Frenzied Struggle for Life in Empress’ Steerage Quarters; Knives and Dirks Were Apparently Plied by Crazed Passengers Battling Way Thru Crowded Mass in Fore-hold.

Boats from nearby villages rescued survivors in the darkness, but hundreds died in the water. Villagers clothed and sheltered people scooped from the river.

Only four of the 138 children aboard the Empress survived and the remains of hundreds of people are entombed in her wreck. For days, searchers recovered bodies from the river, though many of the dead could not be identified and were buried in Rimouski.

One woman had her hair ripped out by other people in the water–an experience that haunted her for the rest of her life. She wouldn’t even get in a bathtub and was terrified of water.

Another woman says she wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the Empress disaster. Her grandfather lost his first wife and their daughter to the shipwreck; he later remarried and had two children, eight grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.

See also: —  a 1-1/2 hour documentary with Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic, confessing even *he* had not heard of the Empress of Ireland!

Canadian film director Stephan Parent brings us the movie

Journey to Oblivion is a feature-length documentary by Merlin Films #Trailer via @YouTube

Call me haunted(along with that cat).


The cruise ship cut through the near-freezing water in the dark of night. For the first-, second- and third-class passengers it was an exciting time, ahead of them lay a long voyage across the ocean to a far-flung land.

But it would be a voyage that was to be cruelly cut short, for out of the darkness loomed a solid mass – one which it was impossible to avoid. When the collision occurred it was severe – steel plate juddered and buckled from the impact.

The radio officer managed to send out a message, but things started to happen very fast. The ship began to flood, very, very quickly.

The Empress of Ireland The Empress of Ireland

In 17 short minutes it was all be over and more than a thousand lives were consigned to the deep.

You might be thinking Titanic, but this tragedy occurred two years later, on May 29, 1914…

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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