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    Salvation Army Remembers Empress of Ireland Sinking

    Events in Toronto and Rimouski, Que., commemorate Canada's worst peacetime maritime disaster. June 13, 2014
    Filed Under:
    Territorial News
    More than 150 officers and soldiers lost their lives on May 29, 1914, when the Empress of Ireland was struck by a Norwegian collier in the St. Lawrence River. With more than 1,000 lives lost, the sinking is the worst peacetime maritime disaster in Canada's history. To commemorate the sinking and remember the lives lost, The Salvation Army participated in 100th anniversary events in Toronto and Rimouski, Que., this May.

    Salvationists and friends gathered at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, where the memorial service featured music by the Canadian Staff Band (CSB), led by Bandmaster John Lam. A good crowd was present, including visitors and descendants of some of the victims who had travelled from England and the United States.

    Members of the Canadian Staff Band play at a commemorative mass for victims of the Empress of Ireland disaster at Sainte-Luce Roman Catholic church in Rimouski, Quebec, on June 1, 2014 Members of the Canadian Staff Band play at a commemorative mass for victims of the Empress of Ireland disaster at Sainte-Luce Roman Catholic church in Rimouski, Quebec, on June 1, 2014


    Led by Colonel Mark Tillsley, chief secretary, and members of the territorial cabinet, the service included songs and Scripture readings appropriate to the occasion. Staff Bandsman Steve Pavey spoke of his own experience in researching the story for his historical novel Pursuit of Grace Aboard the Empress of Ireland. In retelling the tale, he cited specific examples of Salvationists who lived up to their Christian calling on that dreadful night and the impact their witness had on generations to come.

    Commissioner Brian Peddle, territorial commander, spoke of the legacy of those who perished on that fateful night, recalling the impact their deaths had on the young Salvation Army in Canada, and why it is important to keep their memory alive. Appropriately, the CSB presented an arrangement of the last song their 1914 predecessors played while the great ship pulled away from Quebec City, God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

    In addition to the Toronto service, Colonels Mark and Sharon Tillsley and an ensemble from the CSB visited Rimouski from May 29 to June 1 for services commemorating the disaster. Rimouski is the nearest community to where the great ship went down, and many of the city's inhabitants aided victims of the tragedy.

    Numerous descendants gathered with visitors from across Canada and around the world to remember the sinking. Events included the unveiling of a new work of art at the Empress of Ireland Museum and a memorial service for Canadian Pacific, the company that owned the ship. There was also a special Salvation Army reception organized by Major Brian Venables, divisional commander, Quebec Division, for both descendants of victims and the general public. Pavey gave a presentation on the history of the Empress and Major David Ivany, a descendant of one of the original staff bandsmen, gave his own family tribute. On Sunday, the CSB ensemble provided music for a mass at the local Roman Catholic Church before heading home to Toronto.

     

    Colonel Mark Tillsley, chief secretary; Colonel Sharon Tillsley, territorial secretary for women's ministries; members of the Canadian Staff Band; Majors Anne and Brian Venables, divisional director of women's ministries and divisional commander, Quebec Division, gather at the Canadian Pacific Monument in Rimouski, Quebec Colonel Mark Tillsley, chief secretary; Colonel Sharon Tillsley, territorial secretary for women's ministries; members of the Canadian Staff Band; Majors Anne and Brian Venables, divisional director of women's ministries and divisional commander, Quebec Division, gather at the Canadian Pacific Monument in Rimouski, Quebec


     

    Below: Members of the Canadian Staff Band play This Is My Father's World at a commemorative mass for victims at Sainte-Luce Roman Catholic church

    Comment

    On Sunday, August 31, 2014, Sarah Milton-Lomax said:

    We recently visited the Empress of Ireland exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. We were deeply moved by the stories that were told by the survivors. We understand that there is a memorial event held at Mount Pleasant cemetery each year. If it is not an imposition, we would be honored to attend next year's service.

    Thank you

    Sarah and Ivan

    On Monday, July 14, 2014, jean-guy rioux said:

    when an Salvation army in Rimouski ?

    On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Elizabeth Hook said:

    My sister and myself, together with our husbands were privileged to attend the Mount Pleasant remembrance service this year. Our great great uncle,Staff Bandsman George Felstead, his wife and two children were all lost when the Empress sank. We travelled from England especially for this centenary memorial and were honoured to have been there.

    On Monday, June 16, 2014, Ira Barrow said:

    Great to see the memorial services at Mount Pleasant being a significant event once again. (The decline and fall, as it were, of the services for a few years is a story for another day.)

    During my term as Director of the George Scott Railton Heritage Centre I, at the pleading of two or three people who had relatives perish when the Empress of Ireland sank, and my wife's encouragement, re-commenced the annual services with North Toronto Band providing music.

    That first service sponsored by the heritage centre, in 2001, was held was on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon with very few people in attendance. (Providentially a reporter from the Globe and Mail turned up and wrote a column that quickened public interest in the event.)

    Three years later a large crowd gathered on Sunday afternoon to listen to the grand-daughter of Commissioner and Mrs. Rees (the territorial leaders who perish that darkest of nights) as the guest speaker. Lieut.-Colonel D. Rees (R), an American officer, was invited at the suggestion of one of the greatest Army volunteers in Canada, Bandmaster Fred Creighton., After my retirement Colonel John Carew and the heritage centre staff diligently continued with the annual service and the rest is history.

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