Hollywood has memorialized the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic time and time again. When Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio played the ever-famous Jack and Rose in 1998’s “Titanic,” James Cameron ensured that we all learned a thing or two about the famous ship wreck.


You might not, however, have heard of the equally disastrous ship wreck of the Empress of Ireland that occurred two years later — then dubbed ‘Canada’s Titanic.’


The sinking on May 29, 1914 stands as one of Canada’s worst maritime disasters, though a surprisingly few number of Canadians have ever heard of it. Instead of the iceberg, though, the culprit causing the shipwreck was thick fog that was characteristic of St. Lawrence that time of year.


It all began when the Canadian Pacific steamship, Empress of Ireland, and the Norwegian collier, Storstad, were steaming upriver and loaded to the waterline. In a stretch of water just east of Rimouski near the St. Lawrence’s south shore, the river opens up and navigation becomes simple and safer.


The Empress, having just dropped her pilot at Father Point, was still quite close to shore. The Storstad, about to pick up her pilot for the voyage up river to Montreal, was hugging the coastline.


The two ships spotted each other on a clear night, about eight miles apart. The captain of the Empress set a course that, if both ships had followed on their course, would have passed each other with plenty of room. However, a thick fog quickly rolled over the river which hid both of the ships from each other.


Before the captains knew it, the fog dissipated and the ships were heading right for each other, and neither had enough time to safely change course.


According to Yahoo! News, “The federal government has estimated about a million Canadians today — or about one in 35 — can trace an ancestor to this ship. Others believe the number is a more modest ratio of one in 60.”


Postcards of the Empress of Ireland (ca.news.yahoo.com)

With the approach of the 100th anniversary, the Empress of Ireland is finally getting her due. The vessel will be commemorated in the coming days with the release of Canada Post stamps, a pair of silver coins from the Royal Canadian Mint, the launch of a Museum of Canadian History exhibit, the unveiling of a monument and several memorials around the country.



Have you ever heard of the maritime disaster that struck the Empress of Ireland or Canada’s Titanic? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me @kateeb790!