Description of Historic Place
Wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland National Historic Site of Canada is located on the floor of the St. Lawrence River near Rimouski, Quebec. Situated 8.3 kilometres offshore at a depth of 45 metres, the once opulent vessel rests on its starboard side at a 65-degree angle. Operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway this large, elegant, steam powered passenger ship sank in May 1914 with great loss of life. Official recognition refers to the vessel herself and the surrounding associated debris field.
The Wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2009 because:
- it is this country's most notable and most complete example in structural terms of an early 20th-century passenger ship, and stands as an internationally important representative of a period ocean liner that competed successfully in the prestigious North Atlantic passenger market that it shared with a relatively small group of elegant ships of German, British and American ownership;
- it is the sole surviving marine component of the Canadian Pacific Railway that operated, in the prewar years, the world's largest and most extensive transportation and communications network, including lake and ocean vessels spanning the Great Lakes and Pacific and Atlantic oceans, one of the world's longest railway lines, and a telegraph system covering half the globe;
- it possesses an important historical and emotional connection with the roughly 117,000 immigrants the ship transported to Canada as well as to the approximately one million Canadians today who can see in the wreck the roots of their life in Canada; and,
- its tragic sinking and loss of 1,012 lives stands as the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history.
The Wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland is a relatively intact and rare example of an ocean liner from the “golden age” of passenger travel in the North Atlantic, during the early years of the 20th century. In service, this majestic ocean liner could accommodate 1,580 passengers in three classes, along with its primary cargo the Royal mail, as it traveled between Canada and the United Kingdom. Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Empress of Ireland and her sister ship the Empress of Britain were the first passenger liners built specifically for the Canadian Pacific Line, which provided international passenger transport to the growing flow of emigrants from Europe to Canada. From May and June of 1906, the two large Empress ships offered a fast, comfortable weekly service from Liverpool and became popular ships on this route. Not built to be the fastest or the largest liner on the North Atlantic, the RMS Empress of Ireland was still competitive with cruise ships from other countries. The first class facilities were just a notch below those provided by ships such as Olympia and Titanic. The Empress’s second- and third-class accommodations suited the needs of the travelling public and combined affordability, convenience, comfort and speed. The career of the RMS Empress of Ireland ended in the early morning hours of May 29th 1914 when it collided with the Norwegian collier the SS Storstad. After being struck on its starboard side by the former icebreaker, the vessel listed on its side and sank below the surface fourteen minutes later. The sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland took the lives of 1,024 of the 1,477 passengers.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2008.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:
- its location in a shallow trench on the bed of the St. Lawrence River near Point-au-Père, Rimouski;
- its original massing, scale and proportions, surface material, hull configuration, and interior and exterior elements, whether still in place on and within the hull or scattered in the debris field on the riverbed, including:
- the steel construction;
- the structurally intact keel and the damaged hull, with its length of 170 metres, beam of 20 metres, draught of 8.23 metres and the displacement of 14,191 tons;
- surviving components of the vessel’s deteriorating fabric, including the damaged hull and any remains of the original eight-deck superstructure;
- the coal-fired steam propulsion machinery, including the two main quadruple expansion reciprocating engines of 9,250 shaft horsepower and auxiliary propulsion systems;
- any remaining external elements including the two masts, two smoke stacks, and any remains of the wheelhouse;
- the interior layout, features and finish typical of early 20th century ocean liners, including the engine room, boiler room, crews quarters, passenger accommodation and cargo holds;
- the remaining bronze propeller and the rudder positioned under the stern;
- the surrounding associated debris field.