Empress of Ireland display to continue next year at Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong

The popular Empress of Ireland exhibit will return for the 2022 season at the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong after a well-received first year.

KAGAWONG – The news is all good from the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong, in terms of attendance and one of the museum’s very popular displays this past season.

“The Canadian Museum of History has now officially granted the museum an extension of the Empress of Ireland display until October 2022,” stated Rick Nelson, curator of the heritage centre. “And Guy D’Astous, a private collector, has agreed to have his items in the display remain until then as well.”

“So, the entire exhibit that has been in place this season will remain in place for next year as well,” said Mr. Nelson. “We’ve already had people on Facebook say they are grateful the display will remain for another year because they couldn’t visit this year but will or are hopeful to be able to next year.”

And the heritage centre had an incredible year in terms of visitor attendance this summer and early fall. “We’ve had over 3,300 visitors in the past 10 weeks that the museum has been open,” continued Mr. Nelson. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, “we didn’t open until July 15, so we have only been open for 10 weeks. It has been a shorter season than usual.” 

Mr. Nelson said that that the attendance number at the museum this year would make up the normal attendance for a season. “Think of what we might have had for a full season.”

The Empress of Ireland was a passenger ship that sank on May 29, 1914, east of Quebec City, just two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Built in 1906, the Canadian Pacific vessel was making its 96th run across the Atlantic to Liverpool when disaster struck at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It was broadsided by another vessel, the Norwegian collier (coal carrier) Storstad which collided with the ocean liner while navigating thick fog in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the early hours of May 29, 1914. The ship foundered within 15 minutes with the loss of 1,012 people on board.

Although the ship was equipped with more than enough lifeboats for all onboard, the Empress of Ireland capsized so quickly it was nearly impossible to launch them. The ship capsized so fast passengers didn’t even have time to climb stairs while escaping out of their cabins. Apparently, the first divers to reach the sunken wreck 100 feet down saw peoples’ faces sticking out of portholes.

The museum secured numerous artifacts from the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec and many items from the private collection of Guy D’Astous, a private collector and a professional diver, who has dived on the actual wreck 35 times over the years. Mr. D’Astous arguably has the largest private collection the world.