Sister ship to the Empress of Britain¹, Empress of Ireland lies rotting on the floor of the St. Lawrence River just east of Rimouski, Quebec. She lies in approximately 145 feet of water; the depth to the port side is about 85 feet. The site is marked by a buoy that advises visitors that it is not permitted to take anything from the wreck, but it is available for diving in the summer.
The Empress was a grand ship, roughly 2/3 the size of Titanic, she was comparable to the Lusitania in luxury and fittings. She had 11 watertight compartments, but she sank so quickly there was no time to close the doors. (As well, crewmen were apparently not posted by the doors, despite regulations requiring this during fog.) Three to four minutes after the collision with the collier Storstad², the rushing water reached the dynamos and the power and lights failed.
Despite efforts by the Empress of Ireland and Storstad crews, most of the passengers died. Among the dead were the entire upper echelon of the Canadian Salvation Army as well as the Salvation Army band. All were en route to an international Army gathering.
William Clarke, fireman aboard the Empress of Ireland described her death this way: "There was no waiting with the Empress of Ireland. ... The Empress rolled over like a hog in a ditch." Clarke had also been fireman aboard Titanic on her fateful night, the only person to experience both disasters firsthand and survive.
One legend of the Empress tells of the escape of the ship's tabby cat, a veteran of two years' sailing aboard the Empress. The tabby fled down the gangplank just before the ship left port. Supposedly the cat reappeared at dockside as the ship pulled away and watched it go down the river to meet its destiny.
1. Empress of Britain had previously collided with a collier (coal ship), ramming it amidships and sinking it.
2. Storstad was refitted and returned to duty. During WWI she was engaged as a relief ship, but was sunk on March 8, 1917 by a U-boat torpedo off the coast of (perhaps ironically) Ireland.