OTD: Empress of Ireland launches in Belfast

On today’s date in 1906, the Canadian Pacific steamship RMS Empress of Ireland launched in Belfast, Ireland.

Destined to carry passengers and mail between Liverpool and Québec alongside her sister ship the Empress of Britain, the Empress of Ireland was 174 metres in length with a beam extending more than 20 metres. The ship displaced 14,191 tons, and her service speed was 33 km/h with two propellers. She had a capacity of 1,580 passengers and crew.

MARITIME DISASTER

On the morning of May 29, 1914, the Empress of Ireland collided with another ship and sank in the St. Lawrence Seaway, near Pointe-au-Père, Que.

After leaving port in Québec, the crew of the Empress sighted the Norwegian collier Storstad a few kilometres starboard. Both crews attempted to anticipate one another’s course as a thick fog engulfed both ships, forcing Captain Henry George Kendall to bring the Empress to a stop. Minutes later, the Storstad emerged from the fog only 30 metres from the Empress, and the ships collided.

Of the 1,477 passengers onboard the Empress of Ireland, 1,012 people, including 134 children, died.

In 1999, the wreck site was classified as a historical and archaeological property, and it has since earned a protected status as a National Historic Site of Canada.

This 50-cent silver-plated coin was also issued in 2014 as part of the three-coin Lost Ships in Canadian Waters series.

2014 LOST SHIPS IN CANADIAN WATERS SERIES

In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint released two coins – a 50-cent silver-plated coin as well as a one-ounce Fine silver $20 coin – to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland as part of its three-coin Lost Ships in Canadian Waters series.

The 50-cent coin was designed by Canadian artist Yves Bérubé and presents an artistic representation of the Empress of Ireland in the final moments leading up to the collision. There is an eerie stillness to the scene as the ship sails along the St. Lawrence River. The thick fog fills the cool night air and enshrouds the ship, extending beyond the image field on both sides. The ship’s bow and port side are rendered in beautiful detail, and are faintly illuminated by the light from the ship’s windows and portholes. Engraved above the image field is the ship’s bell, which sat atop one of the ship’s masts. It is perhaps the most well-known artifact to be recovered from the ship’s watery grave.

The $20 coin was designed by Canadian artist John Horton and uses selective paint to recreate the imminent collision of the Empress of Ireland and the Norwegian collier Storstad during the early morning hours of May 29, 1914. Rolling in from the coast and engraved in the background, the thick fog comes between the two ships in the coloured centre portion of the image field. The shadowy image of the Storstad emerges from the right side of the image, its sharp bow in line to make contact with the Empress‘s starboard side. The passenger ship’s stern and funnels are partially unobstructed by the fog in this image to provide a glimpse of the liner before tragedy would send it to its final resting place on the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.

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