There's a grave that few visit - and it rests at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River. In 1914, the ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland was rammed by the coal carrier Storstad in thick fog off Point-Au-Père, Quebec. She plummeted beneath the frigid waves within 14 minutes, the immense hole in her hull aided by open portholes in capsizing the liner and pulling her under – along with much of her passengers and crew. With ordinary, common folk filling up the passenger list (heaven forbid) and the First World War arriving shortly afterwards, the RMS Empress of Ireland was largely forgotten.
What speaks most to me about this ship, as well as the tragedy surrounding it, is the fact that it has grown to become a Canadian legend, similar to the Edmund Fitzgerald. We seem to revere and respect events such as this with a little more dignity and awareness – which is rightly so, considering that the bones of many of the disaster’s victims still linger deep within the pitch-black confines of the ship’s mangled hull. The ship holds many secrets that continue to elude and excite us, mainly due to sediment on the riverbed tending to shift and flutter about. I remember reading one story of a diver who discovered a perfectly preserved bundle of newspapers – twine still bound around them and the paper white as virgin snow. He returned a few days later and found a pile of shifted sediment instead. That air of mystery has intrigued me for years, and the RMS Empress of Ireland was one of the first ships to catch my interest, as a result.
Another reason she appeals to me is because I have visited her in person – in a sense. Having seen her artifacts on display at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, I felt emotionally connected to the ship, her legacy and lasting appeal. Seeing shoes worn by a dead passenger, the ship’s bell and wheel, a horn belonging to one of the 167 Salvation Army Band members travelling during the voyage (159 of whom perished) as well as other remnants of lives long passed were a strong and emotional reminder of what happened. Many woke that night to ice-cold water filling their lungs. Let us wake with love in our hearts. This tragic innocence is what is so beautiful about the RMS Empress of Ireland - and so very haunting. Once you're face to face with a piece of history such as this, it never lets go of your heart. Such is the way of humanity. If only more would reflect on moments such as this to gain a better understanding on the value of human life.
For more information on the RMS Empress of Ireland, click here.
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Photo Credit: Corey Reed Video Credit: Shaw TV
An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.