Wednesday, May 29, 2013

History reruns

May 29, 1914

If you read the popular stuff, you'd think there were only 3 major shipwrecks of the 20th century: Titanic, Lusitania, and Andrea Doria. Obviously, there are many more, even if you exclude 2 worldwide conflicts in the last 100 years. The worst peacetime shipwreck in history, the Dona Paz (Philippines), took 4,375 lives as recently as 1987. And I bet you've never heard of it.

Trans-Atlantic crossings have always been critical to both sides of the Atlantic (look at the chaos caused by the recent Icelandic volcanic eruption). Although the giant liners of Cunard and White Star are best remembered, they were by no means alone. Ships were constantly coming and going, carrying passengers and freight, both ways across The Pond.

Although less glamorous than the liners that sailed in & out of New York, there were many busy ships that called on the Canadian ports. One was the Empress of Ireland, which in 1914 was serving the Quebec City to Liverpool route.

Early this morning, 96 years ago, the Empress was outbound from Canada. She was heading northeast on the St. Lawrence River. It was 2:00 a.m., and most of the passengers were sleeping.

In a thick fog, the Norwegian coal-carrier Storstad struck the Empress on the starboard side. The damage was extensive. There was only limited time to sound an alarm, and electricity failed quickly, plunging the ship into darkness. The Empress was gone in 14 minutes.

The survivors were picked up by the few lifeboats that had been launched, and were carried back and forth to the Storstad, which had stayed afloat. Captain Henry Kendall, who was thrown into the water as the ship rolled over, supervised the rescue efforts and likely saved many lives by organizing the lifeboats.

All together the Empress took 1,024 people with her. It remains the deadliest maritime disaster in Canadian history. In spite of this, the ship is mostly forgotten today. The St. Lawrence Seaway is a very busy channel. Hundreds of ships steam over the Empress every day, very few knowing of the tragedy beneath them.

The Salvation Army remembers. A large contingent of members (167) were lost on the ship, traveling to a conference in London. There is a monument to them at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, in Toronto.

The Empress of Ireland is in 130 feet of water, well within the range of scuba equipment, but the currents and poor visibility limit diving


Unknown said...

My first thought was, "of course I've heard of the Empress of Ireland" -- but, like most shipwrecks, I've only heard of it because of the songs written about it. 3 Pints Gone did the version that I remembered:

The Empress of Ireland, lyrics by James A. Kuehl

It even mentions the Salvation Army band.

amy said...

I don't comment too often, but want to tell you how much I love it when you post these tidbits of history--I've learned a lot, and so have my 2 teenage sons. You write very well and make it interesting!

Packer said...

Google Indonesian Ferry Accidents if you ever get the idea that shipwrecks are a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there is a museum dedicated to the Empress of Ireland in Rimouski, Quebec. It's a great place
and you can see several artifacts form the ship there.

Scott Merville said...

Dear Dr. Grumpy:

If a single office suite at MD Anderson was really larger than a house and many times the size of your office, your grumpiness would be understandable. However, that’s simply not the case for the renovation of 12,000 sq. ft. of office and lab space to accommodate our Department of Genomic Medicine and our Institute for Applied Cancer Science.

Dr. Lynda Chin’s office is 187 square feet and the cost of her furniture was $20,251. This compares with 160 square feet and $15,000 for the average department chair at MD Anderson. Her suite includes a 121-square-foot meeting room and 124 square feet of office space for her assistant.

None of this is out of line for a scientist and leader who both chairs an academic department and serves as scientific director of an institute designed to improve the efficiency and speed of cancer drug development.

Dr. Chin is one of the world’s leading experts on cancer genomics, a crucial field that is helping us better understand abnormalities that drive tumor survival and growth in order to better treat and prevent cancer. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and serves in leadership roles for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) of the National Institutes of Health and the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

Out of this $1.5 million renovation project, $547,434 covered furniture and renovations for 9,000 square feet of space for multiple offices and meeting rooms for IACS and the department. The balance of about $900,000 was invested in converting biology labs to chemistry labs by adding fume hoods and modifying mechanical, electrical and plumbing to accommodate that use.

Planning for this renovation began in the fall of 2011 and the project was completed in 2012, so it’s unrelated to MD Anderson’s current fiscal challenges.
Many thanks

Scott Merville
External Communications
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Anonymous said...

okay scott, thanks for that clarifications, but next time try to post where it belongs...

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