Of Heritage Fair Projects and Trying to Change A Student's Mind

Empress of Ireland.jpg

One of the great things about the heritage fair is that students have the opportunity to choose any subject they want to in Canadian history -- local, provincial or national. For many young students (the fairs are for students grades 4 to 9), this is their first opportunity to see what interests them about history and pursue it. And this week I tried to get a student to think about changing her topic. Let me explain. The student has chosen to do a presentation on the Titanic. I can understand. It is an incredible story. And today, on the 99th anniversary, it seems even more poignant. But I encouraged the student to think about either expanding the topic or changing the topic to be about the Empress of Ireland. How many of you have heard of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland? This sinking, which took place 29 May 1914, was the deadliest maritime disaster in Canadian history. The ship was carrying 1477 passengers and crew; 1073 lives were lost. The Empress of Ireland was departing from Quebec City when it was struck by a Norwegian collier (coal bearing) ship called the Storstad. It took only 14 minutes for the Empress of Ireland to sink. And only 4 life boats were launched. Because the ship listed to the side, it was impossible for other life boats to be launched. The Captain, Henry Kendall, has just been promoted as Captain of the Empress of Ireland and this was his 1st trip down the St. Lawrence River in his new position. The Captain survived. He had been thrown clear of the ship and landed in the river. For hours he searched for survivors but many drowned or succumbed to hypothermia. On the Empress of Ireland were ten people from Lethbridge, nine of whom perished that day. Among the dead was the entire Hunter family: John and Jesse and their children Grace (14) and Stewart (11). The children were students at Westminster School. Also on board from Lethbridge were Elizabeth Kitley, Joe Cresswell, Fanny Cresswell, William J. Giles, David Clausen and Emma Hammer. David Clausen was the only survivor. He was initially listed as deceased in a Lethbridge Herald article but David Clausen sent a telegraph to friends in Lethbridge that said he was “Saved – David.” Reports of his death had been in error. There is a display on the ship and her passengers and crew in Rimouski, Quebec, and there are many more stories of the Empress of Ireland than I can tell here. I'm not sure if the student is going to change her topic. We'll have to wait until the Regional Fair on May 14 to find out.