I've been won over by the Empress of Ireland. At the age of five or six, I was lucky enough to begin learning of the tragic history of this fabulous ship. My late mother, Adriennne, used to tell me stories of a great shipwreck that had taken place off Ste-Luce Cove. My mother had learned the story from her father, Hermenegilde. My grandfather's family lived above the road to Carrier which, even today, serves as a visual reference to locate the wreck. Thus I learned at an early age that it was an immense liner which had been involved in an accident with a coal carrier. I knew, too, that there had been many fatalities but that the exact position of the wreck was unknown. The details that my mother provided me were always accompanied by a song which she had sung from her own youth. She'd never forgotten The Empress Lament. In 1964 a group of divers began looking for the wreck site, and I never missed an opportunity to read about their progress. Finally, they found the Empress and you could actually see photographs of the objects which they had recovered.
souvenirs. I got bolder with each dive. I had an opportunity to dive under conditions of exceptional visibility and to view almost the entire front section of the liner.
In 1978 I decided to take a series of slides on the wreck. It was, at that time, the only means I had to bring back color images of the ship. My girlfriend Francine waited anxiously in the small boat while two the divers and I went down to begin our dives. I had no problem with the descent, despite all the photographic gear I was carrying. In a moment of inattention, I began following a rope that had come off the wreck. Thus I found myself beside the wreck, my knees in the silt and my mask full of water. Due to the depth and and fatigue, I did a poor job of clearing my mask. I held my nose and blew so hard, thinking to clear the mask in this way, that my right eardrum ruptured. I let go of the photo gear and headed rapidly toward the surface without knowing what had happened. I tried breathing but got only a mixture of air and water in my throat. Francine helped me back onto the small boat. Then we realized that air was coming out of my ear when I exhaled strongly from my nose. Finally I realized what had happened and and how lucky I had been to get to the surface without any further problems.
It was in 1966 that I bought my first scuba tank and Aqua Lung regulator. My training consisted solely of reading a small book published by the U.S. Divers company and written by Fred Roberts. A year later, I purchased a wet suit and began diving with my buddy, who had been a former hardhat diver. We located an old shallow wreck dating from the period of 1870-80. I still wasn't experienced enough, nor equipped with enough gear, to consider diving on the Empress. In the summer of 1976, I joined a small group that had rented a boat and...finally, with considerable unease, I descended to the wreck. One visit to the Lower Promenade Deck charmed me and left me greatly moved, for the ship was still in good condition at that time. I guided myself around by counting the pillars which still supported the Upper Promenade and Boat Deck. There were still portholes visible on the hull, and the windows were in a good state of preservation. I continued to dive the Empress and bring back a few
Source: Zone Doc L'Empress of Ireland, le naufrage oublié
Portside of the Empress of Ireland
Then Francine said she'd heard something strike the underside of the boat. It turned out to be my camera, which my buddies had picked up underneath our boat. A year later, I resumed diving again, but this time only under exceptionally good conditions. I still continued with my research on documents, photos and 1914 newspapers, etc., which I look after carefully, along with the artifacts which I recovered and subsequently declared to the the Receiver of Wrecks. Visitors to the Musee de la Mer at Pointe au Pere can also see an exact replica of the Marconi Spark Coil
Transmitter as used aboard the Empress. I made it from pictures of what remains of the Empress' transmitter, and from period documents and drawings. AND IT WORKS.... Dedicated to my mother, Adrienne, and also to my dear Francine, who always helped me until her death in May 1997.