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100 Year Old Naval Disaster Connects to Grindstone

Over twenty years ago Janet, my wife, was working in her store, the Karmelcorn Shop in Watertown. It was an old building and there was a problem with an electric light socket, and I came to the rescue.

While working on the light socket I noticed a travel poster tacked to the side of an old shelf. The poster was for transatlantic travel on the Empress of Ireland. The Empress and her sister the Empress of Britain were owned by the Canadian Steamship Company.

The poster was old and brittle so I carefully removed the tacks and took it to a paper conservator and frame shop in Boonville. The poster hangs now in the dining area of our home.

To review a bit, my parents took my brother and sister and

I to Europe in 1958 on the “grand” tour. We traveled over on the fabled Queen Elizabeth and back on the French liner Flandre. Two of the results of this trip, for me, were a lifelong interest in history and steamships. I have been slowly building a collection of books and small mementos associated with steamships.  The poster is just one of these special treasures.

The St. Lawrence River is not usually associated with great steamship disasters, in our collective memory. Yet May 29, 2014, will mark the 100th anniversary of a tragedy on a “Titanic” scale in the St. Lawrence.

Shortly after leaving Quebec City for England the Empress of Ireland was struck amidships by the Norwegian Storstad, near Father Point, Quebec. The loss of life was a horrific;  1100 souls. The reasons boiled down to a series of events anyone, of which might have saved the ship.

After the collision the Empress listed quickly to starboard; making the use of lifeboats, on either side, extremely difficult. The list also kept the sleeping passengers from getting to the boats. Unlike the “Titanic”, the “Empress” was equipped with enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew, but unlike the “Titanic”, which took over two hours to sink the “Empress” sank in 18 minutes -  trapping hundreds.

This tragic tale was chronicled by Logan Marshall, the nom de plume of Logan Howard-Smith the father of Grindstone Island’s Douglas Howard-Smith.  Douglas was the first husband of Junie Augsbury of Grindstone Island. (See The “Titanic” and Grindstone, February 2012).  Logan’s book is entitled “The Tragic Story of the Empress of Ireland” republished in a “centennial edition” by Berkley Press, New York.

Logan originally published the book, shortly after the event in 1914. The reprint is available from Amazon and original editions can be found, but generally command a good price. The book is described as the “definitive version” for the story.

Logan also wrote the definitive history of the sinking of the Titanic. Since the copyright has expired on both books many reprints have been made, especially of his Titanic book.

By Rexford M. Ennis, Grindstone Island

There is a five-minute video available, on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Archives website, on the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. 

By Rexford M. Ennis, Grindstone Island

Rex Ennis has written several articles for TI Life.   His bio is recorded in Contributors in December, 2008. In the past two years Rex has published two important books on the Thousand Islands.  The first, published in 2010 is Toujours Jeune Always Young, the biography of Charles G. Emery.  It was reviewed in the June 2010 issue.  The second, Saints, Sinners and Sailors of the Gilded Age: A compendium of biographical sketches, centered on the Gilded Age in the Thousand Islands, which describes the biographies of every name appearing on a 1889 map published by Frank H. Taylor called: Map of the Thousand Islands; Hotels, Parks and Cottages.  See the book review in our July 2011 issue and you will find the map described in the July issue, in the August 2011 issue.  Luckily for TI Life readers, Rex is hard at work on a new book – so stay tuned.

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Kyle Petersen
Comment by: Kyle Petersen ( )
Left at: 9:59 PM Wednesday, June 11, 2014
As someone from Syracuse who annually travels up to the river and take a great interest in the ships of both past and present, I'd like to know, about where did she sink?
2014 Guest
Comment by: 2014 Guest
Left at: 9:50 AM Thursday, June 12, 2014
Kyle, the Empress of Ireland sank just off Father Point, Quebec, down river from Quebec City.