On May 1st, 1914 Captain Henry Kendall took command of the Canadian Pacific Line's flagship Empress of Ireland. In a letter to Captain Kendall dated May 9th, the Manager-in-Chief of Ocean Services stresses the importance of safety in consideration of the handling of the vessel.

"...Dear Sir,
In handing over the command of this vessel to you, I desire to particularly call to your attention the importance of your command and to the value of the ship. I emphasize to you the instructions of the company relative to the care of your vessel and the lives of your passengers. It is to be distinctly understood that the safe navigation of the ship is to be in all instances your first consideration. You must run no risk which by any possibility might result in accident; you must always bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property entrusted to your care is the ruling principle by which you must be governed in the navigation of your ship. And that no saving of time on the voyage is to be purchased at the risk of incident. I cannot sufficiently emphasize my desire that these instructions be carried out to the letter. It is expected that all officers of your ship will bear this in mind, and will be specially cautioned by you and, furthermore, that everyone on board will do their utmost to please and to gratify the company's patrons..."

For 40-year old Kendall, command of a fine ship like Empress of Ireland marked a turning point in his career, a summit from which he could not be toppled. As he stood on the bridge of his new charge overlooking the docks of Quebec, he surely felt a surge of great satisfaction at having accomplished so much in his long life at sea. He had joined the crew of an Inman Line steamer, City of Berlin, at the young age of 15. City of Berlin is most remembered as the first Atlantic steamer to be equipped with electric lights. Several years of sailing across the Atlantic as well as the South Pacific forged a hearty sea dog out of the once rebellious lad and in 1907 Kendall was actually assigned to Empress of Ireland as Chief Officer under command of Captain John V. Forster. During his yearlong stint aboard the Empress, he had noted how popular she was. I imagine he committed himself to one day commanding a fine vessel such as she. Ironic, no? In any case, it is assumed that Kendall was indeed very proud of his accomplishments as well he should have been. As passengers, crew and cargo came aboard for the 96th crossing, all in the world seemed right through the eyes of Captain Kendall.

The afternoon of Thursday May 28th, 1914 saw the loading of the last of Empress of Ireland's coal and cargo. With a turnaround time of nearly a week, there was plenty of time for colliers to deliver the 2,600 tons of coal needed for an Atlantic crossing. Additionally 1,100 tons of cargo was loaded during the interim as well, though certainly not all of it arrived in a timely manner. For this particular crossing Third Class was filled to capacity, but First Class was booked to only a third of it's capacity and Second Class was only half full. This was unusual for the Empress but no doubt the crew members charged with tending to the needs of an ungrateful, dismissive aristocracy were relieved to have their workloads lightened, if only for one crossing.
One of those traveling in the underbooked First-Class was Sir Henry Seton-Karr, a noted outdoorsman and and former member of the British Parliament. The 61-year-old Seton-Kerr was returning to England after a hunting trip in Britsh Columbia. Seton-Karr's rugged spirit seemed equalled only by his sheer eloquence and sophistication, which he seemed to balance quite well. He was traveling alone, presumably having left his wife in England while he tackled the dangers of the Western Frontier.

Two of the most famous First-Class passengers on the Empress' last voyage were Laurence Irving and his wife Mabel Hackney. Popular stage performers of the day, they had been touring Canada with their production troupe and had just performed their last show in Winnipeg. Although there was not enough time to pack the props and costumes up to make the journey from Winnipeg to Quebec, Irving and Heckney proceeded on with their valet and maid to board the Empress while the rest of the company had booked passage back to England aboard White Star's Teutonic.

Occupying the majority of Second-Class were 171 members of the Salvation Army. Traveling aboard Empress of Ireland to the Army's third worldwide conference, referred to as the International Congress, the group included the Territorial Staff Band from Toronto and it's leader, charismatic 35-year-old Edward James Hanagan. Hanagan was traveling with his wife Edith and their seven-year-old daughter Gracie.

By 4:00PM the call could be heard for all those going ashore to do so, and at 4:27 Captain Kendall gave the order to cast off. With a report from the ship's whistle, Empress of Ireland departed for the last time. As cheers echoed from the docks filled with those seeing their friends and family off, perhaps no one gave thought to the danger ahead save for one Empress crew member who had abandoned ship just prior to departure. Emmy, an orange tabby cat who for two years had served as the ship's official mouser, had decided this was one trip she would not be making. Animal instincts, perhaps? Whatever the case, Emmy was last seen perched on top of a freight shed as Empress of Ireland steamed up the St. Lawrence River with 1,477 passengers and crew aboard. As the passengers and crew settled into their routine and prepared for a long journey across the ocean, dusk began to settle on the Canadian north. Within a few hours the Empress would be in Pointe au Père where she would discharge her pilot and head for open sea.

As evening fell upon the waters of the St. Lawrence River, Empress of Ireland steamed northwards towards the sleepy town of Rimouski and Pointe au Père (Father Point). Captain Kendall did not make a dinner appearance, but had planned instead to stay on the bridge (or in his cabin near the bridge) and entertain his passengers in the morning over toast and coffee. Kendall was a charismatic Captain well known for his insightfulness as well as his bemusing stories of life at sea. For now his ship was in the hands of experienced river pilot Adélard Bernier. Bernier was a skilled navigator and had seven years under his belt with Empress of Ireland. His job was to safely deliver the vessel from Quebec to Pointe au Père. Captain Kendall displayed an enormous amount of faith in Bernier by allowing him to give orders regarding speed and bearing. Two Quartermasters on duty for each 4-hour shift spent two hours each at the helm and also present were two officers.

At midnight, the duty shift changed over and First Officer Edward J. Jones and Third Officer Charles Moore took over. Quartermaster John Murphy took the helm, still under direction of Bernier. By 1:30AM, Bernier would disembark and return to Quebec as Empress of Ireland entered the mouth of the St. Lawrence where deeper, wider waters made navigation safer and easier. Safer and easier, that is, in the absense of fog, which at this particular time of year could be dangerous as the waters of the St. Lawrence were chilled by the melting ice to the north and met the warming air of late spring over the river's south shore. Fog on the St. Lawrence is particularly "mischevous" at times, rolling across the water with intent, driven by unseen currents that shape it and force it into seemingly acrobatic maneuver. At other times the fog is just simply all-consuming, blanketing the river like a nebulous
apparition. This thick, unyielding fog could appear and disappear as quickly as it's wispy counterpart.


NEXT: Tragedy at Pointe au Père
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Empress of Ireland

Captain Henry Kendall

Sir Henry Seton-Karr

Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney

Salvation Army Territorial Staff Band Members

James, Edith and Gracie Hanagan

Passengers on deck

Empress Postcard

Empress of Ireland


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