Empress of Ireland Remembered

Canada's worst maritime disaster is also its least known. Learn more about the forgotten tragedy of the Empress of Ireland.

Written by Nelle Oosterom

May 26, 2014

Though less storied than the Titanic, the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914 remains the largest peacetime maritime disaster in Canada’s history. The Liverpool-bound passenger steamer sank in the turbulent waters of the St. Lawrence River within minutes of being accidently hit on the starboard side by a Norwegian collier in dense fog near Rimouski, Quebec. Of the 1,477 people aboard, 1,012 perished.

The heartbreaking event seemed destined never to fade from public memory, but it did, when Canada entered the First World War a few months later. For fifty years, the wreck sat undisturbed at the bottom of the St. Lawrence. In 1964, divers rediscovered the wreck and pulled up a ship bell, renewing interest in the forgotten disaster.

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To mark the centennial of the event in 2014, Canada Post unveiled a set of stamps, a full-colour book that tells the story of the Empress, plus two Empress postcard reproductions.

In addition, the Royal Canadian Mint released two commemorative coins.

And the Canadian Museum of History put on a special exhibit in 2014 to mark the event. Dominique Savard describes the exhibit in this podcast:

Other commemoration events took place during the anniversary at Rimouski, Quebec. These included: The ringing of church bells at the time of the early morning sinking, boat tours of the wreck site, the inauguration of a new monument, and the presentation of a new documentary about the disaster.

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