Canadian Museum of Civilization acquires Empress of Ireland collection
Gatineau, Quebec, October 29, 2012— The greatest Canadian maritime disaster will soon take centre stage at the Museum of Civilization. Canada’s national history museum has acquired the most comprehensive collection of artifacts and archival material related to the sinking of RMS Empress of Ireland, and is planning an exhibition in 2014 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
The Canadian Pacific Railway ocean liner sank in the St. Lawrence River near Rimouski, QC on May 29, 1914, after being broadsided bya Norwegian coal carrier, the Storstad. The accident happened in dense fog in the dark of night just hours after the ship left port in the City of Québec. The Empress sank within 15 minutes, killing an estimated 1,012 of the 1,477 passengers and crew. The victims included 134 of the 138 children on board, the majority of passengers in the lower decks, and most of the Salvation Army’s Canadian Staff Band, who were on their way to London. Slightly more than half of the crew of 420 managed to survive.
“The sinking of the Empress of Ireland was a Canadian tragedy of trulyTitanic proportions,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “While most Canadians know the story of the Titanic, not many have heard of the Empress, in large part because the disaster was overshadowed by the outbreak of the First World War just two months later.”
“The Empress of Ireland collection and the exhibition we are organizing will help us better understand the tragic fate of the ship and appreciate its important legacy as a Canadian vessel that brought tens of thousands of immigrants to our shores,” O’Neill said. “The Empress and the poignant stories of its passengers represent a dramatic moment in Canadian history, one worth preserving for future generations.”
In its eight years of operation, the Empress carried thousands of people across the Atlantic between Liverpool and the City of Québec, many of them travellers on their way to a new life on the Canadian Prairies or in a big city such as Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg or Vancouver. The wreck, which lies along Canada’s most important and historic navigation corridor, was recently designated a National Historic Site.
The Empress of Ireland collectioncomprises more than 400 items, including the ship’s fog bell, compass and other navigational instruments, as well as portholes, dining-room furniture, light fixtures, dishware, utensils and personal items like a silver pocket watch and a hat box. There are also two ship models of the Empress, and archival materials such as historic photos, newspapers and personal papers, including an eight-year-old survivor’s memoir recalling her harrowing rescue.
The Museum of Civilization acquired the artifactsfrom private collector Philippe Beaudry for a combination of purchase and a gift tax receipt. The collection, whose value is estimated at more than $3 million, has been designated as one of “outstanding significance and national importance” by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. This acquisition was financed in part with the assistance of a Movable Cultural Property grant of $425,000 accorded by the Department of Canadian Heritage under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization is the centre for research and public information on the social and human history of the country. Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Museum is Canada’s largest and most popular cultural institution, attracting over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum of Civilization’s principal role is to preserve and promote the heritage of Canada for present and future generations, thereby contributing to the promotion and enhancement of Canadian identity.
Empress of Ireland exhibit
On March 24, 2012, I did an exhibit of my Empress of Ireland collection during the launch of the website, nepteau.tv. People could see about 40 artefacts and many originals documents from the ship or the Canadian Pacific Railway. 125 people were there for the evening. A great success !
If you would be interested in having an exhibit of the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland near you, do not hesitate to contact me.
Journey to Oblivion; The Empress of Ireland Story
To be release in Pointe au Père, May 29, 2014
Presentation in school
A few months ago I was invited by the school of Sacré-Coeur in Saint-Bruno, Québec to make a presentation about the Empress of Ireland. On January 29, 2014 I did the presentation to a class of 4th grader. They had read a book about the Empress, La dernière nuit de l'Empress of Ireland (Last Night on the Empress of Ireland) by Josée Ouimet. They knew about the Empress, but wanted to know more. I talked about the history of the ship, the dives I made, etc. I think they enjoyed the presentation but what they really like the most, was the second class porthole I brought. I was to be there about an hour, but it lasted almost three... The kids could not stopped asking questions and they were fascinated. I might do it again next year!
RMS-Empress-of-Ireland website launch
May 29, 2012 - Today I officially put on line my website about the RMS Empress of Ireland. It will be an ongoing process and I will be adding informations, artifacts and documents pictures on a regular basis.
The site is not completed yet, but at least you can have a glimpse of what is coming.
If you have any information concerning the Empress of Ireland that should be posted here, do not hesitate to communicate with me!
On the picture you can see a lady reading a newspaper, reporting the tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland. The picture comes from a photo album of the Melanson family of Plymouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. If anyone know the name of the lady, please tell me!
If you have questions, comments or if you would like share your story concerning the Empress of Ireland, email me at:
Enjoy the visit !