Forgotten Tragedy: Sinking of the Empress of Ireland

May 28, 2014
Empress of Ireland. Photo: Library & Archives of Canada, Public Domain

Empress of Ireland. Photo: Library & Archives of Canada, Public Domain

May 29, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland in Canadian waters.

RMS Empress of Ireland was a Canadian Pacific Steamship liner plying a regular route between Liverpool, England and Quebec City, Quebec.

In the early hours of May 29, 1914 she was outbound from Quebec near Rimouski on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The pilot had just disembarked and the ship resumed her journey to Liverpool. The lights of a steam ship had been sighted nearby. Both ships became hidden in a heavy fog bank. Fog whistles on both ships began blowing regularly. Suddenly the SS Storstad, a Norwegian steamer, crashed into the side of the Empress causing severe damage below the waterline.

At the time of the collision the Empress carried 1,477 passengers and crew. Most of the passengers were asleep at the time of the accident. Within 14 minutes the ship sank. Only 465 persons survived. The death toll was 1,012 (840 passengers and 172 crew). Tragically 134 of those who perished were children.

Removing bodies of children from rescue/recovery ship at Quebec. Photo: Library of Congress, Public Domain

Removing bodies of children from rescue/recovery ship at Quebec. Photo: Library of Congress, Public Domain

The wreck lies at the relatively shallow depth of 130 feet (40 metres) and is accessible to skilled divers. Over the years many artifacts have been salvaged. Shortly after the accident salvage crews recovered 318 bags of mail and 212 bars of silver.

In 1999 the Canadian government designated the wreck a National Historic Site and it is now protected from further salvage.

On May 29, 2014 Canada Post  issued stamps to commemorate the sinking and loss of life. Numerous memorial services are planned to remember those who died in the sinking.

The Empress played a significant part in Canadian history. It made 95 trans-Atlantic crossing and carried over 120,000 immigrants to Canada. Many of these people settled in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba and contributed to the development of the West.

The sinking is still considered the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history.

References for more information:

Maritime Museum of Quebec

Library & Archives of Canada

The Empress of Ireland (Facebook)

Merseyside Maritime Museum (Liverpool, UK)

 

 

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The Way We Were 1964: Fifty years ago.

May 21, 2014

1964-the-beatles-life-270In this year of 2014 it is now fifty years since some of us lived through 1964. Here are some interesting things about this important year. Most of this information and factual data is from American sources, but at the end you will find some tidbits on Canada. Enjoy and please leave a comment about something you remember from that year.

What it cost:
Average yearly income $5,880
Gallon of gas .25c
Gallon of milk $1.06
Loaf of bread .21c
1st class postage stamp 5c (to mail a letter)
Magazine subscription (51 issues) $5.00
Pair of shoes $9.95
19” TV black & white $139.95

Entertainment:
1st appearance of Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show
Shooting starts for Star Trek pilot on television

Hit singles:
Baby Love – The Supremes
Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles
Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
I Get Around – The Beach Boys
Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Rag Doll – The Four Seasons

Movies at the theatre:
Goldfinger – James Bond movie with Sean Connery
Mary Poppins
The Pink Panther – with Peter Sellers
My Fair Lady

Deaths of note:
General Douglas MacArthur – commander of the Pacific operations in WW II.
Jim Reeves – country star (plane crash)
Harpo Marx – comedian – part of the famous Marx Brothers. He was the one who never spoke on screen.
Gracie Allen – comedienne – wife of George Burns – Burns and Allen comedy team
Herbert Hoover – former President of the U.S. – just before Franklin Roosevelt.

Births of those who would become famous later on. Who knew:
Nicolas Cage – actor
Matt Dillon – actor
Rob Lowe – actor
Sandra Bullock – actor
Keanu Reeves – actor
(remember all these will turn 50 years of age this year)

Notable Factoids or Events:
Cigarette smoking is enjoyed by 60% of population.
U.S. Government reports, “that smoking many be hazardous to one’s health”.
Hasbro introduces the G.I. Joe doll.
Ford Mustang goes on sale ($2368 base price).
U.S begins bombing of North Vietnam which dramatically ramps up the Vietnam War. An LBJ decision.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is published, written by Roald Dahl.
Sony introduces first VCR video recorder.
Computer mouse invented, but not generally available until much later.

Notable Canadian Facts from 1964:
Prime Minister is Lester Pearson (Liberal Party).
Social Insurance Number cards issued for first time to Canadians.
Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup (over Detroit Red Wings). Most recent win for Leafs was 1967.
First Tim Horton’s donut shop opens in Hamilton, Ontario. (This is the one I like the best.)


Extreme drug smuggling.

May 9, 2014

Smugglers attempting to get illegal drugs across the Mexican border into the United States have begun using exotic and extreme methods. The construction of the new, secure fence along the border has forced them to get smart or lose money.

Some of the methods employed to cross the US/Mexico border include, tunnels, ultra-light aircraft, catapults, ramps, and cranes. Tunnels are dug under the border and can be as long as several miles. They can remain hidden for months, even years until someone tips the Border Patrol.

Ultra-light aircraft fly across the border at low altitudes, usually at night, drop a package of drugs in a field, then return without landing or being detected.

Catapults similar to those used in ancient times to besiege castles are rolled up to the border fence at night and packages of drugs flung across the border to waiting dealers.

Even portable ramps are placed across the fence, then a vehicle is driven across loaded with drugs. Once across the fence the vehicle disappears into the night.

One of the latest methods employs portable cranes to lift cars or trucks loaded with drugs across the fence at night. By the time this is discovered the smugglers are long gone.

The only thing the new fence along the US/Mexico border does is slow the smugglers down. The smugglers learn to innovate quickly to ensure the flow of drugs and money does stop. It takes all the ingenuity and resources of the Border Patrol to keep pace with them and their sometimes bizarre methods of crossing.


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