Documentary of the Week: The Invasion of the Empress of Ireland The Impossible Adventure of Quebec Divers

It only took 14 minutes for himEmpress of Ireland sank in the cold waters of St. Lawrence in 1914. After the emergency operations ended, its ruins were lost for 50 years. documentary InvadingThe Empress of Ireland, featured in History Saturday, tells the amazing story of her rediscovery by Quebec divers.

Posted at 13:00.

Alexandre Vigneault

Alexandre Vigneault

The most famous part of the history ofEmpress of Ireland is as follows: on the night of May 29, 1914, the ship was hit on the right side by the Norwegian collie. Storstad. The water floods at breakneck speed on the ship, which has 1477 passengers and crew. It quickly overturned and dragged away more than 1,000 women, men and children, most of whom remained imprisoned in their cabins.

The worst maritime tragedy in Canadian history went around the world at the time. Divers from here and even from the United States took part in operations to find the bodies, the safe, the silver bars and the mail bags. The drowning, however, was removed from the news by the outbreak of World War I. After all, years later, the exact position of the ruins was no longer known …

It is common, according to documentary and sea historian Samuel Côté, that we do not know where to find the ruins. of titanic was not localized until 1985, 73 years after it sank.

It took 50 years – and a string of fortunes – for Quebec divers to finally find itEmpress of Ireland. Samuel Côté also owes a portion of his film InvadingThe Empress of Ireland with one of them, Claude Villeneuve, with whom she befriended.

“He shared artifacts with me, but especially images shot in 1964 that no one had seen,” says the documentary filmmaker. When I saw them, I said to myself that I had to tell this story, which is an adventure. »

InvadingThe Empress of Ireland certainly returns to the tragedy and its immediate consequences. However, he focuses on a lesser-known aspect of history: the quest to find the ruins. He evokes some unsuccessful or unsuccessful attempts, then stops at the group of divers that included Claude Villeneuve, who finally found him in July 1964.

The latter arrived in Rimouski with great courage, but equipped with a boat that was not at all suitable for navigating the river. By chance they met Aubert Brillant, a wealthy businessman born in Rimouski, who is interested inEmpress of Ireland from childhood and providing them with his own boat, Canadian. “Two days ago, this yacht was not here. “It is far from being a detail for people hoping to find a suitable boat to go to sea,” the documentary producer underlines.


Fernand Bergeron, Claude Villeneuve and André Ménard are among the discoverers of the ruins ofEmpress of Ireland in July 1964. They pose here with a bell drawn from the liner which sank on May 29, 1914.

Like the others, Claude Villeneuve and his teammates are looking in the wrong place, relying on data showing the “alleged” position of the ruins. It took them a second stroke of luck to reach the goal, namely a meeting with Donald Tremblay, of the Maritime Institute du Québec, who knew how to use a sextant and had old documents showing a position he could find with help his. of three markers: the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse and the bell towers of two churches in the region.

On July 16, the adventurers set sail. On July 17, they surrounded the position for six hours before capturing anything. This is where men jump into the water. Thirty minutes later, a half-century-old mystery was solved. “We were not sure it was the right ship,” said Jean-Paul Fournier, one of the detectives. Only after they brought some objects, including a plaque identifying the first-class sector and a bell, did they reach the bottom of it.

Samuel Côté, also author of a forthcoming book entitled Éloi Fortier, the wreck hunterswanted to pay tribute to these divers with InvadingEmpress of Ireland, which will also be the subject of a paper work. “Both divers of 1914 and 1964 risked their lives. A better understanding of the wreckage has cost divers their lives, “he added, 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 their achievement. »

InvadingEmpress of Ireland, Saturday, 9pm, at History

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