Toronto’s link to the sinking of the Empress of Ireland—1012 perished

29 May


The above photo was in the Globe and Mail on May 29th, 2013, on the occasion of the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River, four miles off the coast of Quebec. This CPR steamship was rammed on its starboard side in the early-morning hours of 29 May 1914 and sank within 14 minutes. Only four of its 40 lifeboats were ever launched.

On 28 May 1914, the ship set sail from Quebec City with 1057 passengers aboard and a crew of 420. Of the 1057 passengers, only 465 survived. There were 1012 victims, including 134 children. Of the 420 crew, 172 perished. This disaster was Canada’s greatest maritime tragedy. More passengers drowned on the Empress than on the Titanic, although the final death toll was higher on the Titanic as more of the crew perished. Today, the wreck of the ship lies at a depth of 45 metres, deep at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, 4.5 nautical miles from the town of Sainte-Luce-sur-Mer.

Onboard the ship were many members of The Salvation Army, including its Staff Band and many administrative officers. They were travelling to Britain to attend an International Congress. Many perished, including all but 12 of the band. Every year since the tragedy, The Salvation Army has held a memorial service in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery to honour those who died on the fateful day. This year there was a crew from the CBC Montreal present at the ceremony as the CBC is producing a film for TV to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking in 2014. Also present at this year’s service was the Amsterdam Staff Band from the Netherlands, which provided the music for the service.

It was a deeply emotional service, despite the passing of nearly a century.


                       A postcard of the Empress of Ireland


                         Empress of Ireland under full steam


A postcard that went ashore from the Empress with the mail ship from Pointe-au-Pere (Father Point) on the evening of 28 May 1914.


                              The galley of the Empress


Waves of the Atlantic pounding the bow of the Empress. The ship was launched on 27 January 1906, and during its years of service carried 187,000 passengers, mostly immigrants, to Canada.


             Second-class dining room aboard the Empress of Ireland


               One of the seven decks of the Empress. 


The Storstad, the ship that rammed into the starboard side of the Empress. It was loaded with coal being shipped from Nova Scotia, and was travelling up river to take on a pilot at Pointe-au-Pere. 


The Salvation Army funeral service for the victims was held in Mutual Street Arena, which in 1914 was the city’s main sports arena. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives.


           The Salvation Army funeral service in Mutual Street arena.


Funeral cortege proceeding north on Yonge Street to Mount Pleasant Cemetery


                        Committal service in the cemetery

Note: all photos relating to the Empress are from the George Scott Railton Heritage Centre of the Salvation Army


The graves of the victims of the Empress in Mount Pleasant Cemetery and the plinth that commemorates the tragic event.

the wreath

On the last Sunday on May, for 99 years, a wreath has been placed on the memorial plinth in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view other posts about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

The Traders Bank on Yonge Street—the city’s second skyscraper

Toronto’s old Union Station on Front Street, built in 1884

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe Streets.

The row houses on Glasgow Street, near Spadina and College Streets

The bank at Queen and Simcoe that resembles a Greek temple

The cenotaph at Toronto’s Old City Hall

The magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral at King East and Church Streets

St. Stanislaus Koska RC Church on Denison Avenue, north of Queen West

The historical St. Mary’s Church at Adelaide and Bathurst Streets

The Bishop’s (St, Michael’s) Palace on Church Street, Toronto

The Union Building at Simcoe and King Street West

The Ed Mirvish (Pantages, Imperial, Canon) Theatre, a true architectural gem on Toronto’s Yonge Street

The Waverly Hotel on Spadina near College Street.

The Art Deco Bank of Commerce building on King Street West.

The Postal Delivery Building, now the Air Canada Centre (ACC)

The Bellevue Fire Station on College Street

The Bank of Nova Scotia at King and Bay Streets

Toronto’s old Sunnyside Beach

Toronto’s architectural gems—the Runnymede Library

Spadina Avenue – sinful, spicy and diverse

The Reading Building, a warehouse loft on Spadina Avenue

The Darling Building on Spadina Avenue

The amazing Fashion Building on Spadina Avenue

Toronto’s architectural gems – the Tower Building at Spadina and Adelaide Street

The Balfour Building at 119 Spadina Avenue

The Robertson Building at 215 Spadina that houses the Dark Horse Espresso Bar

An architectural gem – Grossman’s Tavern at Spadina and Cecil Streets

History of the house that contains the Paul Magder Fur Shop at 202 Spadina

An important historic building that disappeared from the northeast corner of Spadina and College

Historic bank building on northeast corner of Spadina and Queen West

History of the Backpackers’ Hotel at King and Spadina

Hamburger corner – Spadina and Queen Streets

Lord Lansdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent

The Victory Burlesque Theatre at Dundas and Spadina

The Dragon City Mall on the southwest corner of Dundas and Spadina

Buildings on the west side of Spadina a short distance north of Queen Street.

History of the site of the Mcdonalds on northwest corner of Queen and Spadina

A former mansion at 235 Spadina that is now almost hidden from view.


Military hero of the War of 1812 lived near corner of Spadina and Queen West.

To view other posts about Toronto’s past and its historic buildings:

The Art Deco bus terminal at Bay and Dundas Streets.

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The old Dominion Bank Building at King and Yonge Street

The Canada Life Building on University and Queen Street West.

Campbell House at the corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue

A study of Osgoode Hall

Toronto’s first City Hall, now a part of the St. Lawrence Market

Toronto’s Draper Street, a time-tunnel into the 19th century

The Black Bull Tavern at Queen and Soho Streets, established in 1822

History of the 1867 fence around Osgoode Hall on Queen Street West at York Street

Gathering around the radio as a child in the 1940s

The opening of the University Theatre on Bloor Street, west of Bay St.

122 persons perish in the Noronic Disaster on Toronto’s waterfront in 1949

Historic Victoria Memorial Square where Toronto’s first cemetery was located, now hidden amid the Entertainment District

Visiting one of Toronto’s best preserved 19th-century streets-Willcocks Avenue

The 1930s Water Maintenance Building on Brant Street, north of St. Andrew’s Park

Toronto’s architectural gems-photos of the Old City from a book published by the city in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems – the bank on the northeast corner of Queen West and Spadina

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The St. Lawrence Hall on King Street

Toronto’s streetcars through the past decades

History of Trinity Bellwoods Park

A history of Toronto’s famous ferry boats to the Toronto Islands

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Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Toronto


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