While many know of the ill-fated end of such “famed” Ocean Liners as “Titanic” and “Lusitania”, few have heard of The RMS “Empress of Ireland”. She was an Ocean Liner constructed by The Canadian Pacific Steamship Company in 1905. The “Empress” operated between Europe and Canada for many years before her tragic and largely avoidable mishap in The St. Lawrence River in 1914. The loss of life rivaled even that of RMS “Titanic”. As stated, The “Empress” was built in 1905 at The Fairfield Shipbuilding Docks at Govan, Scotland. Part of an idea to cash in on The Transatlantic Immigration and Wealth Travel Trade for The Canadian Pacific Steamship Company, The “Empress” was the first of a much larger planned Cruise Line.
The “Empress” displaced 15,000-tons and was 570-feet long. She sat 40-feet above the waterline and was nearly 100-feet at her Beam. Constructed of mostly Steel, “Empress” featured 4-Decks and could accommodate up to 1,500 First, Second and Third Class passengers. She Crewed 370 Officers and Men. The “Empress” made the run between London and Quebec, which required her to navigate the deep but at times treacherous St. Lawrence River. The River had been for centuries the primary travel route for shipping into Canada. It still was in 1914. By May of that year, The “Empress” had made almost 100 successful crossings.
1,477 Passengers and Crew were on board “Empress” on May 29, 1914 – when she set out for the return trip from Quebec to Liverpool. All seemed well until a thick and unexpected fog bank enveloped “Empress”. “Human” visibility was barely in feet. As was tradition, the practice of using Ships Horns (for sounding) were used. The same conditions on board “Empress” also existed on The Collier Steamer SS “Storstad” (registered out of Norway). At over 400-feet “Storstad” was lost as well. Even at a “slow speed”, neither Ship had warning until they both collided with each other at 2:00AM.
“Storstad” had her Stern ripped away by the impact, but quick thinking with regards to her Crew to secure her watertight doors and manning her pumps, saved her. However, a huge gash was opened in The “Empress” amidships. Water poured in too fast (faster than a panicked Crew that did not secure her watertight door compartments). The list (or roll) of the Ship was so drastic that her lifeboats tumbled off her Deck and crashed into the River. Even those Boats that were being lowered by Davits at the time, spilled their survivors into the freezing St. Lawrence. It took 14-minutes for The “Empress” to sink by The Bow. Lack of adequate lifeboats and life vests (couple with the hypothermia which accompanied the survivors floating in the water. 1,077 all told perished.
It was later determined (by Board of Inquiry), that in addition to the lack of securing the watertight compartments, “Empress” had the vast majority of her Porthole windows opened for some reason. This helped facilitate her quick sinking as well. Surprisingly well preserved, The “Empress” still lies at the bottom of The St. Lawrence – in 130-feet of water, considered a “Memorial” to those lost (many bodies were not recovered and assumed entombed inside the Ship or having been drawn out to Sea). The “Empress of Ireland” is often considered The “Titanic” of The St. Lawrence River.