Parks Canada

Parks Canada

July 08, 2011 13:55 ET

A Tragic Page of Canada's Maritime History Commemorated

The Government of Canada highlights the national historic significance of the wreck of the Empress of Ireland

POINTE-AU-PÈRE, QUEBEC--(Marketwire - July 8, 2011) -

Editors Note: There are 2 photos associated with this press release

On behalf of the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, senator, today unveiled a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque commemorating the national historic significance of the wreck of the Empress of Ireland. A special ceremony was held at the Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père.

"With a loss of 1,012 lives, the sinking of this majestic ship on May 29, 1914, stands as the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history," said senator Fortin-Duplessis. "With this official commemoration, we ensure that the terrible story of this imposing ocean liner, its crew and passengers, and the importance of this ship for many Canadians of European descent is shared with future generations."

Lying off Sainte-Luce, the wreck is the most structurally complete example of an early 20th- century ocean liner in the country. It is also the sole remaining ocean liner of the Canadian Pacific Railway from before the First World War, a period when the company operated the largest transportation and communication network in the world. Tens of thousands of immigrants arrived aboard the Empress of Ireland between 1906 and 1914.

"The tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland profoundly marked our collective memory," said Minister Kent. Today, for many descendants of those who travelled on this ship remain emotionally connected to this symbol of the beginnings of their lives in Canada. With this commemoration, the Canadian government pays tribute to those who lost their lives during this disaster, and invites all Rimouski residents, Canadians, and visitors from abroad to remember this page in our history."

Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Commission advises the Minister of the Environment regarding the national historic significance of places, people, and events that have marked Canada's history. Parks Canada manages a nationwide network of national historic sites that make up the rich tapestry of Canada's heritage and offer visitors the opportunity for real and inspiring discoveries.

For additional information, please see the accompanying backgrounder at www.parkscanada.gc.ca, under Media Room.

BACKGROUNDER

Wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland National Historic Site of Canada

In the early hours of May 29, 1914, the sumptuous ocean liner Empress of Ireland, en route from Québec City to Liverpool, collided with the Norwegian coal transporter SS Storstad in the St. Lawrence River off Pointe-au-Père, Quebec as a result of a navigational error. The Norwegian vessel deeply pierced the middle portion of the Empress of Ireland's hull at full speed, condemning the Canadian vessel to a speedy demise. Fatally crippled and taking on water at a furious pace, the Empress of Ireland disappeared below the surface of the river within 14 minutes of being struck with extensive loss of life. The passenger ship, the grande dame of the CPR's extensive maritime fleet, sank to the river bottom 40 metres/130 feet below. Immediately, commentators compared the tragedy with the sinking, two years earlier, of RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage. Memorials were erected in Rimouski where many of the victims were buried and in Toronto.

Its structure nearly intact though stripped by divers of many of its components, the wreck remains on the river bottom, a testament to the CPR's fleet and a memorial to a tragic accident. Since the wreck's rediscovery in 1964, the vessel has become a world- renowned dive site. Ships such as the Empress of Ireland allowed the less affluent to travel abroad, the immigrant to seek a new life in Canada, and the upper class to travel in definite luxury. In death as in life, RMS Empress of Ireland speaks eloquently of a bygone era when luxury liners first transited the oceans.

The wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland is this country's most notable and most complete example of an early 20th-century ocean liner, and stands as an internationally important representative of a period passenger ship that competed successfully in the prestigious North Atlantic passenger market. It is the only remaining example of a prewar ocean liner of the Canadian Pacific Railway. During the prewar years, the CPR operated the world's largest and most extensive transportation and communications network, including lake and ocean vessels spanning the Great Lakes and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, one of the world's longest railway lines, and a telegraph system covering half the globe.

The Empress of Ireland has carried over 100,000 westbound passengers, most of whom were immigrants, and the ship represents a deep historical and emotional connection with them and their descendants as the starting point of their life in Canada. Finally, its tragic sinking and loss of 1012 lives stand as the worst maritime disaster to occur in Canadian waters.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, in close collaboration with Parks Canada, advises the Minister of the Environment regarding the national historic significance of places, people and events that have marked Canada's history. The placement of a commemorative plaque represents an official recognition of historic value. It is one means of informing the public about the richness of our cultural heritage, which must be preserved for present and future generations.

To view the photos associated with this press release, please visit the following links:

http://www.marketwire.com/library/20110708-PC_1_800_0708.JPG

http://www.marketwire.com/library/20110708-PC_2_800_0708.JPG

Contact Information

  • Michel Queenton
    External Relations Manager
    Gaspesie Field Unit
    418-368-5592
    Cell.: 418-360-6222