Documentary of the week: Conquering the Empress of Ireland |  The unlikely adventure of Quebec divers

Documentary of the week: Conquering the Empress of Ireland | The unlikely adventure of Quebec divers

It only took 14 minutes for the empress of Ireland she sank into the cold waters of St. Lawrence in 1914. After emergency operations ended, her remains were lost for 50 years. The documentary conquering the empress of Ireland, featured Saturday in History, tells the amazing story of its rediscovery by divers from Quebec.

The best-known part of the history of the Empress of Ireland is as follows: during the night of May 29, 1914, the ocean liner was rammed on its right side by a Norwegian miner started. The water rushes at breakneck speed towards the ship, which has 1,477 passengers and crew. It quickly capsizes, dragging with it more than 1,000 women, men, and children, most of whom remained imprisoned in its cabin.

The worst maritime tragedy in Canadian history went around the world at the time. Divers from here and even from the United States participated in the operations to recover the bodies, the safe, the silver bars, and the postal bags. The sinking, however, was left out of the news by the outbreak of the First World War. Above all, years later, the exact position of the remains was no longer known…

It is common, according to documentary filmmaker and maritime historian Samuel Côté, that we do not know where to find the remains of the shipwreck. the titanic was not located until 1985, 73 years after its sinking.

It took 50 years, and a series of coincidences, for Quebec divers to finally find the empress of Ireland. Samuel Côté also owes part of his film conquering the empress of Ireland to one of them, Claude Villeneuve, with whom he befriended.

“He shared artifacts with me, but above all images filmed in 1964 that no one had seen,” says the documentary filmmaker. When I saw them, I told myself that I had to tell this story, that it is an adventure. »

conquering the empress of Ireland, of course, returns to the tragedy and its immediate consequences. However, she focuses on a lesser-known aspect of the story: the quest to locate the remains. She evokes some unsuccessful or unsuccessful attempts, then stops at the group of divers, including Claude Villeneuve, who finally found her in July 1964.

The latter arrived at Rimouski very boldly, but equipped with a ship that was not quite suitable for river navigation. It was by chance that they met Aubert Brillant, a rich businessman born in Rimouski who is interested inEmpress of Ireland since childhood and who provides them with their own boat, the canadian. “Two days before, this yacht was not here. It is far from being a detail for people who hope to find a suitable ship to go to sea”, emphasizes the documentary filmmaker.


Fernand Bergeron, Claude Villeneuve and André Ménard were some of the discoverers of the wreck of theEmpress of Ireland in July 1964. Here they pose with a bell recovered from the ocean liner that sank on May 29, 1914.

Like others, Claude Villeneuve and his comrades are looking in the wrong place, based on data indicating the “presumed” position of the remains. It took a second stroke of luck for him to reach the goal, namely a meeting with Donald Tremblay of the Institut Maritime du Québec, who knew how to use a sextant and had old documents indicating a position that could be found with the help of . three landmarks: the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse and the bell towers of two churches in the region.

On July 16, the adventurers place a buoy. On July 17, they circled the position for six hours before snagging something. This is where the men jump into the water. Thirty minutes later, a half-century mystery was solved. “We weren’t sure it was the right ship,” said Jean-Paul Fournier, one of the discoverers. It was only after pulling out a few items, including a plaque identifying the first-class sector and a bell, that they reached the bottom.

Samuel Côté, also the author of an upcoming book titled Eloi Fortier, shipwreck hunterswanted to pay tribute to these divers with conquering theEmpress of Ireland, which will also be the subject of a paper work. “Both the 1914 and 1964 divers risked their lives. Knowing the wreck better has cost divers their lives,” she adds, referring in particular to a diver who died during rescue operations and five underwater explorers who drowned between 1980 and 2002. “I want to remember your achievement. »

conquering theEmpress of Ireland, Saturday, 9 p.m., in History

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