Introduction

archival photograph of Empress
S.S. Empress of Ireland, ca. 1906-1914. Photograph courtesy of the Library and Archives Canada/PA-116389.

The Empress of Ireland was a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) ocean liner that sailed the North Atlantic between 1906 and 1914. Throughout her eight years of operation, she shuttled 186,848 people between Liverpool and Quebec. The majority of the westbound passengers were British and Scandinavian immigrants pursuing their dreams of starting a new life in Canada. Many were traveling to the Canadian Prairies. The once-demanding journey was made less difficult by the Canadian Pacific Railway's combined ship and railway rates.

The Empress was an elegant ship that offered modern amenities to her First, Second, and Third Class guests. For instance, the ship was equipped with the Marconi Company Wireless Telegraph apparatus. This new form of wireless technology enabled ship operators to send and receive messages over 400 miles by day and 2,000 miles by night.

Most importantly, the Empress provided her guests with comfort and peace of mind. The Empress was known as a reliable ship because she had the highest safety ranking, Lloyd's Class *100 A1. The ship's safety features were further augmented due to new legislation implemented after the Titanic disaster of 1912.

Yet in the early hours of May 29, 1914 tragedy struck the Empress.

Not far from the Quebec shore, the eastbound Empress collided with Norwegian coal carrier the Storstad. Impact from the Storstad was severe and the Empress sank within fourteen minutes. 1,012 people from the Empress drowned in the cold waters of the St. Lawrence River, a loss comparable to the Titanic disaster two years earlier. But the story of the Empress was almost forgotten with the start of the First World War just a couple of months later.

Empress of Ireland: Lost Ship, Recovered Voyages is the story of a great ocean liner and of those who immigrated to western Canada by ship and rail almost a century ago.

last review/update: Jun. 11, 2015