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Empress of Ireland - The Pyjamas

One of the stars of our exhibit, Empress of Ireland: Canada’s Titanic, is this set of pyjamas from a survivor. A second class passenger, an Irish immigrant, John Langley managed to survive the sinking, by crawling out of a porthole wearing these pyjamas. And that was the grim fact about Empress of Ireland sinking in 1914: the ship went down in 15 minutes, and if you hesitated, you died. Langley jumped right out of bed and managed to escape wearing these pyjamas. And he and his family kept them for decades and decades as remembrance of his very close call.

Empress of Ireland - The Bridge

We have a special case in the exhibit Empress of Ireland: Canada’s Titanic that features objects from the bridge of the ship Empress of Ireland. These are the control devices that allow the officers to safely navigate the ship. They’re on loan to us from the Canadian Museum of History, the Quebec Maritime Museum, and the Royal Alberta Museum. And they’re the ship’s helm, the engine room telegraph that controlled the speed, the telemotor that the helm was mounted on, the compass and then communication devices: a Marconi intercom and the voice tube.

Empress of Ireland - Behind the Scenes with the Curator

We’re now preparing to put artifacts in a case from the wheelhouse of Empress of Ireland. The wheelhouse was the nerve centre of the ship. It’s where the captain and officers on duty control everything that happened on the ship: they could communicate into the engine room with voice tubes and telephones, and the ship’s telegraph, and they decided where the ship was going to go.

Empress of Ireland - The Ship's Bell

At the heart of our exhibit, Empress of Ireland: Canada’s Titanic, is this magnificent ship’s bell. This was the bell that stood at the base of the foremast of the Empress of Ireland, on loan to us from the Canadian Museum of History. And it’s one of the most beautiful ship’s bells I’ve seen in my career as a curator: that lovely filigree patterning on the bronze, the arched lettering "Empress of Ireland." It’s a magnificent bell—weighs nearly 600 pounds. It’s also, for its beauty, a very sombre, bronze, dark piece of nautical artwork.

Empress of Ireland - The Porthole

This creepy shattered porthole is the first thing that visitors to our exhibit, Empress of Ireland: Canada’s Titanic, see as they come through the door. It’s a shattered porthole from the actual ship, RMS Empress of Ireland. It—Actually the glass broke as the ship sank and settled on the bottom of the Saint Lawrence River. It’s a compelling object; it’s also a very rare one. This was a high-tech porthole for 1914 when the disaster happened. It has an automatic sort of flotation shut device on it, made by the Thomas Utley Company of Liverpool. And it’s one of only five known Utley portholes in the world.

The Mountie Doll

This little plastic figurine of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer is one of my favourite objects in our exhibit. It tells many stories about immigration to Canada. This little guy was presented to the Saujani family in 1972 when they arrived in Montreal on September the 28th 1972 as refugees from Uganda. They were fleeing the dictator, Idi Amin, who expelled every Asian in the country and the Saujanis arrived in Canada after a long flight and many scary and challenging experiences, they were very exhausted but happy to have arrived in Canada. Shanta Saujani, her husband, and 3 children arrived and were welcomed at the immigration facility in Montreal and they were presented with winter coats, the staff were very kind and welcoming, and the children were presented with this little plastic figurine of an RCMP officer. They were a little puzzled by this object, which seemed so different from the toys they had in Uganda, but they understood that it was an important national symbol and they cherished this object.

The Colonist Car

Welcome aboard our Colonist Car! This is a carefully constructed replica of the train cars that took immigrants from the ships at Pier 21 to their new homes across Canada. These cars were specially designed for immigration. They were called “Colonist Cars” because they were intended to take immigrants the thousands of miles across the Canadian landscape.