The Empress of Ireland is an important part of history for both The Salvation Army and Canada.
On the morning of May 29, 1914, the nation was shocked to learn that the Empress of Ireland had been rammed and, just 14 minutes later, sank into the St. Lawrence River. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 died.
Although the tragedy impacted the whole country, The Salvation Army bore the brunt of its blow, losing almost 150 of its members that included senior leaders and 29 members of its 41-piece Staff Band. All the Salvationist passengers were making their way to London, England, for an International Congress under the esteemed leadership of General Bramwell Booth.
The tragedy has never been far from the minds of members and friends of The Salvation Army and a monument was built by The Salvation Army at Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Each year since 1916, Salvationists have gathered at the memorial to remember those whose lives were lost or forever changed in Canada’s worst maritime disaster.
The deadly collision is only part of the historical significance linked to the steamship and Canada. The Empress made 95 transatlantic crossings before it went down, bringing over 120,000 European immigrants to a new life in Canada (some of whom were helped by The Salvation Army).
Despite the disaster, The Salvation Army continued its ministry and influence. Today, it is Canada’s largest social service provider, giving hope and help to 1.8 million Canadians at their greatest point of need.