Shipwreck declared national historic site

Empress of Ireland

By Randy Boswell - Canwest News Service

Nearly a century after the Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence River and took the lives of more than 1,000 passengers and crew, the wreck of the elegant luxury liner that represents Canada's worst maritime disaster has finally been declared a national historic site.

The mammoth, Titanic-era cruise ship — once lamented as "the orphan of Canadian heritage" because its wreck site near Rimouski, Que., was plundered by divers for decades — is also famous for its role in transporting tens of thousands of immigrants to Canada during a pivotal period in the country's growth.

Today, about one million Canadians are descendants of immigrants who arrived in this country aboard the 174-metre Empress of Ireland, which crossed the Atlantic Ocean regularly for about a decade before colliding with a Norwegian coal freighter in dense fog on May 29, 1914, and sinking in 30 metres of water.

"This sea tragedy marked the memory of an entire generation, and we have to make sure that it is not forgotten," Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who oversees Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, said in announcing the designation. "It is important to allow every Canadian to know about this page of history and to honour those who lost their lives."

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