100-Year Anniversary of the Sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland
Often referred to as “Canada’s Titanic,” the RMS Empress of Ireland’s sinking was a tragic event in Canadian history. Built in 1905 and launched in 1906, the ship carried over 120,000 European immigrants to their new lives in Canada. In the early hours of May 29th, 1914, while travelling down the St. Lawrence River, the ship collided with the Storstad, a Norwegian collier. On that fateful day the ocean liner was carrying 1,477 passengers: 609 men, 310 women and 138 children. It only took the ship 14 minutes to sink and as a result over 1000 people lost their lives; just 4 of the 138 children onboard were saved.
In 1999, the Dufferin County Museum & Archives received an interesting donation connected to the Empress of Ireland – a rather unassuming box…filled with priceless jewellery. The box had once belonged to Ethel Sabina (Grundy) Paton. Ethel was listed in the ship's registry under “Mrs W. E. Paton, First Cabin from Sherbrooke, Quebec.” She occupied Cabin 32, at a fare of 40 pounds. Mrs Paton was travelling with her stewardess Helena Hollies. After the violent collision, Ethel went back to her room to retrieve her jewellery and then, miraculously, managed to find a lifeboat and escape the sinking.
Mrs. Paton’s precious earrings, broaches and rings are currently on display in the DCMA’s new exhibit, “Our Canada”. This impressive display features artifacts that are of significance in Canadian history. This being the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, more now than ever, stories such as Ethel’s are being revealed. It is estimated that 1 in 35 Canadians can trace an ancestor to the ship.
To learn more about the Empress of Ireland and Ethel Paton, come visit us at the Dufferin County Museum & Archives.