Empress of Ireland, Library and Archives Canada PA 116389
The sinking of the Empress of Ireland is this country’s worst maritime disaster, but many Canadians don’t even know about it. This may be in part because the event was overshadowed by the declaration of war just two months later. But the sinking of the Empress and the loss of 1,012 of the 1,477 passengers and crew was a loss equivalent to the sinking of the Titanic, and deserves to be more widely recognized.
One hundred years ago, on May 29, 1914, the Empress of Ireland, en-route from Quebec to Liverpool, struck the Norwegian coal vessel Storstad in the St. Lawrence River, and sank within 15 minutes. On board were nearly 1500 people, among them 138 children. Only 5 of the children were among the survivors. The shipwreck was rediscovered in 1964 and remains in the St. Lawrence, six kilometres from Ste. Luce-Sur-Mer . In 2009 the Canadian government named it a National Historic Site. The Canadian Museum of History has launched an exhibition about the Empress and her passengers.
Recently, I was contacted by a researcher who is interested in finding out more about the descendants of the passengers from that last voyage. He is looking for anyone who may be connected with a passenger who was aboard the Empress on the night she sank. If you are connected in some way to the Empress of Ireland, you can visit his siteand get in touch with him.
There were some Calgarians aboard, notably the Garnetts, who were part of a large contingent of Salvation Army members on their way to London. You can view the complete list of Calgary passengers in the Morning Albertan. Library and Archives Canada also has an online aid to researchers who may have family connections to the Empress of Ireland or really, for anyone who is interested in doing more in-depth research on this tragedy
Prior to her sinking, The Empress of Ireland played an important role in the settlement of the west. She made 96 voyages between Quebec and Liverpool and many of the people she carried were immigrants looking for a new life in Canada A search for Empress of Ireland in the Canadian Passenger Lists index in AncestryLE pulled up numerous hits. Not all of these would have been new immigrants, but many were and many of these were heading to the west. A look at some of the lists tells the story of the settlement of the prairies. Stories like that of the Hobdays, who came over on the last voyage of the Empress from Liverpool. Sidney, 21, and a new immigrant, was coming over with Albert, his brother, who was marked as a returning Canadian. Sidney was a farm labourer, while his brother was a fireman. Just these details can tell the story of a family looking for a new life in a new country.
We should remember the Empress of Ireland, not just for the tragedy that took her and so many of her passengers, but also for the contribution she made to the history of Canada.