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 the first World War started, the tragedy of the Empress of Ireland seems to get buried in this eventful historical period and is too often forgotten.
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.
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.
- Aaron Solomon
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.