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.
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.
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.
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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Irving and Mabel Hackney
Army Territorial Staff Band Members
Edith and Gracie Hanagan