Empress of Ireland

04:23
Coole Park
2010-03-04
Lori Ference, Aaron Solomon

Story

Story Summary

The Empress of Ireland was a Canadian Pacific ocean liner.  While sailing down the St. Lawrence River on May 29th, 1914, sometime after 2 AM, she collided with another ship, the Norwegian collier Storstad.  The Empress sank in 14 minutes.  Out of 1477 passengers and crew they lost 1012 people, 8 more than were lost on the Titanic.  This was Canada's deadliest maritime disaster.  Possibly because it happened two years after the Titanic went down and two months before World War 1 started, the tragedy of the Empress of Ireland seems to get buried in this eventful historical period and is too often forgotten.

Writer's Notes

One day Aaron played part of a little tune that he'd composed and asked if I'd like to put lyrics to it. Often when he does this, I will start to get images in my head or a theme will come to me. This little tune had me thinking of the story of the Titanic. Sometime thereafter, Aaron had a dream where he was a young woman on an ocean liner, living out little personal dramas that really didn’t matter once I found myself drowning in the water and watching the ship sink. 

A few weeks after Aaron's dream, I spotted an interesting image of an ocean liner on an National Film Board catalogue beside the description of a documentary about "The Empress of Ireland"

This became my introduction to this relatively unknown, yet great Canadian disaster story. It was as if the spirits of those who had lost their lives had reached out to us to share their story with a wider audience via music.

Surely, many who have watched James Cameron's "Titanic"  were gripped by the soundtrack and may even remember the lively Irish tune played below deck in the wee hours before the ship collided with the iceberg.  There is something haunting about the fullness of life expressed in this tune considering what happened thereafter. 

And, it is this sort of fullness that I felt when I first heard Aaron's musical idea for this song. Thus, I hungrily digested books about the Empress of Ireland story to expand upon the lyrical ideas that were coming to me.  After I'd researched the story, the lyrics came in a weekend, flowing through me as if I was only responsible for taking notes. 

-Lori Ference

Lyrics

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I had a dream where I was a young woman on an ocean liner, living out little personal dramas that really didn’t matter once I found myself drowning in the water and watching the ship sink.  A few weeks after having the dream, Lori and I read about the Empress of Ireland, a ship that was sunk in the St. Lawrence River by a collision with another ship, the Norwegian Collier Sorstad, on May 29th, 1914.  Sometime after 2AM, the Empress was hit and sank in fourteen minutes.  Out of 1,477 passengers and crew they lost 1, 012 people, eight more than were lost on the Titanic.  This was the deadliest Canadian maritime disaster.  Possibly because it happened two years after the Titanic went down and two months before World War I started, the tragedy of the Empress of Ireland seems to get buried in this eventful historical period and is too often forgotten.

 

Down the St. Lawrence, headed for Liverpool

Lawrence and Mabel hold hands at the rail

Ethel in diamonds, the Salvation Army band

Tiria Townshend on a trip round the world

First class meant brown leather, green velvet, tulipwood

Moose antlers stored in an unwanted bag

Bone china, fine linens, Spanish mahogany

On tufted banquettes dined most esteemed guests

Down on the promenade, Ollie led a sing-a-long

Moon and stars shone on the jubilant crowd

Some still wrote letters, played cards, drank a glass of port

Then all retired for a restful first night

Dreams of reunions, homecomings, honeymoons

Meeting grandchildren, grandparent’s delight

The chief steward had found no problems at hand

The Empress of Ireland made her way to sea.

 

Red to red, green to green

The fog dropped its pall; she ran blind through the night.

A collier sliced Empress, some rose from their beds

A swift wall of water soon buried their heads

Lifeboats for all, no time to fill them

In just fourteen minutes the Empress was gone

One thousand twelve souls she took when she dove

The fog left a green glowing graveyard behind.