The Loss of the Empress, Stan Rogers and St. Roch’s Circumnavigation

The Empress of Ireland

A wee bit of Canadiana for our readers:

On this day in 1914, the Scottish ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the estuary of the Saint Lawrence River, after an accidental collision with a coal ship in thick fog, with the loss of 1012 lives. This was just two years after the loss of the Titanic, lost off the coast of Newfoundland, with more than 1500 lost. With that tragedy fresh in people’s memories, there were vastly improved safety procedures – improved hulls, more lifeboats – but the ship sank in 14 minutes, and only 465 survived of 1477 aboard. We can only prepare so much for what God may have in store, and the end may come at a moment we least expect. Requiescant in pace. 

The schooner St. Roch

On a happier note, also on this day, in 1950, the RCMP sailing schooner St. Roch – yes, I too didn’t know they had such, and if they still do, I might think of signin’ up – reached port in Halifax, after completing the first circumnavigation of North America. The ship, rigged with two masts and a 150 hp diesel engine, was also the first to make the Northwest passage from west to east – Pacific to Atlantic – after Amundsen had done it the other way 38 years before.

Stan Rogers memorialized the trip in his ballad ‘Take It From Day to Day‘, which is sort of a motto for life in our world. Stan met his own end tragically, dying of smoke inhalation in a plane fire on June 2, 1983. I heard that he helped others escape before himself, which was the brave lot of most men on the Titanic and the Empress. Rest in peace, and our gratitude for the music:

We might as well also add his Northwest Passage, which has become a Canadian ballad, which my students love to belt out at our music nights and even on our hikes through the forests of the Canadian shield: