The Empress of Ireland - Chris Klausen

Canada's Titanic

My name is Chris Klausen. I have always been very interested in the Titanic and her story. 11 years ago in a book about shipwrecks, I came across the Empress of Ireland and found her story just as compelling. I wondered why neither I nor no one else seemed to have heard of her. On eBay I found a diver named Bart Malone was selling artifacts from the ship. I bought a salt pot, a butter cup and a small creamer—all Third-class, everything for $78—and I was hooked!

Thus far I have collected over 130 artifacts from before and after the Empress sank. I am currently trying to put together a tour of my collection to cities throughout Canada. While I have succeeded in repatriating some of the major artifacts from the wreck to their home country, I believe that collectors everywhere who wish to perpetuate the memory of all those who lost their lives in this disaster should be able to own Empress artifacts.

The Empress of Ireland, a handsome and well-appointed ocean liner, was built for the Canadian Pacific Railway by the esteemed Fairfield Engineering Company, Ltd. in Scotland. Designed by Dr. Francis Elgar (1845-1909), the Empress was fully inspected and approved from drawing board to sea trials. She was a twin-screw steamer weighing about 14,000 tons. She measured 548.9 ft. long and 65.75 ft, wide and had room for 350 First-class passengers, 350 Second, 1,000 Third, and 420 crew.

This Empress was an imposing sight. She stood high as a four-story building above the waterline. She was as long as two football fields and as wide as a four-lane highway. Her public rooms were magnificent and her dining lounges, elegant. On her maiden voyage on June 29, 1906 the great ship left England for her first trans-Atlantic voyage to Canada. At the speed of 20 knots (23 mph), she made the journey from Liverpool to Quebec consistently in 6 days. She was a steady ship with a reputation for solid comfort and excellent safety features.

Nearly eight years later on May 28, 1914, at 4:30 p.m. local time, the Empress pulled away from her berth in Quebec Harbor, heading for Liverpool, England with 1,477 people on board. This was her 96th voyage. Over the years she had safely carried 186,848 passengers.

Early the next morning, on May 29, however, as the Empress was proceeding down the channel, a dense fog engulfed her near Pointe-au-Père, Quebec. At 1:55 a.m. local time, the Norwegian collier SS Storstad, a 6,000-ton freighter hauling 10,000 tons of coal blindly crashed into the Empress’ starboard side, leaving a 20-foot long gash. Despite being fitted with watertight bulkheads, the Empress rapidly took on water and began listing badly. Because most cabin portholes had been left open for the night air, nearly all the passengers and crew in the lower decks drowned almost immediately. Those in the upper deck awakened by the collision made it out onto the boat deck and into the five lifeboats, which were loaded immediately. Moments later, however, the Empress was so far over on her side that it became impossible to launch any of the remaining 11 main lifeboats she had onboard. Most of the people clinging to the deck thought the Empress had run aground.

Ten minutes after the accident, the ship lurched violently on her starboard side. A few minutes later, her stern rose briefly out of the water. When her hull dropped below the surface at 2:09 a.m. hundreds of people were thrown into the icy St. Lawrence River. Only 465 survived. 1,012 died. Of that number, 840 were passengers—eight more than died in the sinking of the Titanic two years earlier—making this the worst passenger death toll in peacetime history.

May 28th is the one hundreth aniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland.  An exhibit of my artefacts is on display at the Maritime Museum of BC.  For a preview go to Empress of Ireland Anniversary - Shaw TV Victoria

web counter
web counter