Along a coastal road near the St. Lawrence River in Pointe-au-Père in Rimouski, Quebec, Canada travelers may come across a picturesque stone sculpture carved with a wreath and inscribed with many names. Upon further inspection, it’s revealed that this marker is actually a monument and mass grave commemorating Canada’s greatest peacetime maritime disaster and the lives lost when two ships collided in the river.
On the early morning hours of May 29th, 1914 the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland was making a routine trip to Liverpool from Quebec when reports began to come in of nearby ship lights. A thick fog was enveloping the Empress and causing visibility problems but the ship continued on course until suddenly at 1:55 a.m., a Norwegian ship, the S.S. Snorstad, came out of the mist and hit the Empress at a 45-degree angle. The captain of the Empress urged the Snorstad to plow further into the ship to create a plug but the current ripped the two ships apart leaving a gaping hole in the Empress. The early hour of the collision and the severity of the hit spelled doom for those on board and in less than 15 minutes the ship sank into the water, coming to rest 130 feet below the surface and taking with it the lives of 1,012 people out of the 1,477 onboard.
Accessible today by experienced divers, the wreck of the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland has been frequently visited although it remains a dangerous site, having claimed six additional lives since 2009.
The monument and mass grave were dedicated by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to the memory of the 88 people who perished in the disaster, listing 20 names along with a recognition of 68 other unidentified souls who were lost in the disaster.