The Empress of Ireland

By Ed Sandene

The Empress of Ireland played a major role in mother’s life so it is fitting to mention a little bit of that part of the journey. This ship would remain in service only a few more years after mother crossed the Atlantic on it. The following story covers her journey and the unfortunate fate of the Empress.

On May 12, 1909 a 17 year old Finnish woman left Finland. She was setting sail on the Titania, which was a Finnish Steamship Company ship. The destination was England, where she would change ships to cross the Atlantic. On May 25 she would board the Princess of Ireland in Liverpool England, and set sail for Canada. She lands in Quebec, Canada on May 28 and would continue her journey by rail. The ticket price from Hanko Finland to Quebec is $42.00.

The Empress of Ireland is pictured here. There were several other Empress ships such as the Empress of England, of India, of Canada etc. These were owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad which wanted to expand their role in the transportation of the large immigrant movement at that time. According to information provided by the CPR historical department they also had controlling interest in the Duluth South Shore and Soo Line Railroad. This joint ownership could have provided a one ticket fare from England to the Gogebic Range.

The Empress of Ireland would continue to sail the Atlantic from the year she was built, 1906, until 1914. On May 28, 1914 The Empress had sailed from Quebec, Canada and was heading down the St Lawrence river enroute to Liverpool. A heavy fog developed and in the early morning hours she was hit by a Norwegian freighter. She sank in 14 minutes taking with her, 1012 passengers. Even with this loss of lives she remained forgotten until her remains were discovered in 1964. This is considered to be Canada’s worst maritime disaster. The location is just off Point Aux Pere in the Province of Quebec. There is now a museum there to commemorate the disaster.

I have read accounts which mention that more Finns were killed during this event than on the Titanic. The ship was heading east, bound for England , so the victims were not immigrants heading to America. They were headed back to pick up family or return to their homeland.

The young Finnish woman who had sailed earlier on the Empress was my mother. She would later marry a section crew foreman who worked on the Duluth South Shore railroad. They would live in a house situated alongside the railroad tracks at a place called Abitosse.

She not only traveled on the Canadian Pacific’s ships and railroads, she ended up living in a house provided by a company in which the company had controlling interest.

She lived there until 1921 when her life changed again. This is covered in another story.