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May 29, 1914: From 1900 until 1914 almost 100,000 passengers in ocean liners, crossed the Atlantic to Canada, mainly from Great Britain. The main port of entry and embarkation to and from Canada was Quebec City, on the St Lawrence River. Many of the ocean-going passenger ship were huge, not quite rivaling the Titanic, but able to transport almost 1,500 passengers back and forth across the Atlantic. On the morning of May 29, 1914, a thick river fog formed quickly on the surface of the St Lawrence and extending almost 100 feet in the air. River fog can form when the sun heats the air just above the surface of the river all day long. The air near the river becomes much cool on clear nights especially in the spring because the water is still rather chilly from the winter season, so it condenses into a fog cloud. That happened on the morning of May 29 just as the Ocean Liner Empress steamed on the river. Visibility had rapidly decreased and it was hard to see other river traffic as it headed for the open sea. In short order it was struck another ship The Storstad. In this horrific maritime disaster, over a thousand passengers on route from Quebec to Liverpool were lost in just fifteen minutes—the length of time it took for the ocean liner to sink to the bottom of the Saint Lawrence River. There was a misunderstanding between the two captains about their respective ships’ positioning and direction, leading to the fatal collision. The Storstad hit The Empress of Ireland broadside, tearing a 350 square foot hole in her hull. With water pouring in at 60 gallons per second, the ship sank rapidly. Hundreds of sleeping passengers were trapped, and the second- and third-class passengers had much less of a chance at survival than the first-class passengers, as first class was higher up on the ship. Out of 1,477 passengers, only 465 survived. And out of 138 children that were on board, only four survived. Overshadowed by the breakout of World War I two months later, known as Canada’s Titanic, the tragedy of The Empress was almost swept under the rug. Today, The Empress of Ireland is accessible to divers, at only 130 feet below the surface. It has been visited by those experienced enough to dive in such cold temperatures hundreds of times since the ship’s rediscovery in the mid-1980s.
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