Empress of Ireland - The Model

by Ron Marsh, Model Builder

Time 0:04:07


Hello. My name is Ron Marsh. I am here today at Pier 21 Immigration Museum to talk about the Empress of Ireland, a model which I built.

I was born and brought up in Halifax. I was the son of a sailor and I worked 38 years for the navy in DND. I was not in the navy. I was a civilian mechanic. So being around ships that long, I have an affinity for ships.

When the movie Titanic came out about the terrible tragedy, wonderful movie, but tragic, I had read briefly about the Empress of Ireland. I delved into it and I realized that this was Canada’s Titanic. Now just about everybody knows the story of the Titanic, but there’s not many people, especially Canadians, that know the story of the Empress of Ireland. I felt compelled to build something to her memory and this is what I built. It’s not as big as the real ship, mind you, but probably just as difficult to build. I started this ship about a couple of years, about a year after the movie Titanic came out. Having researched, I got the plans for the ship from the Keeper of the Keys in Scotland. She was built in Scotland, actually, at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering in Govan, Scotland. So I got a copy of the plans. I got as many books and photographs as I could of the ship. I made some builder’s notes and sketches just to help me with the ship and then I proceeded.

Now I had built models before but they were usually from a kit. This was my first scratch-built model. Everything on this model is built by hand. It didn’t come out of a box. It took me, approximately, about 800 hours over a twelve month period to get her the way she is right now. I was using pictures of the interior and the exterior mostly. I was as true to the original ship as I could be. Everything that is on this model was on the original Empress of Ireland.

She brought a lot of immigrants to Canada at the turn of the last century. She was what we would class, if you compared her to the Titanic at the time – she was not a luxury – she was called an intermediate. She was luxurious – was appointed very well, beautiful interiors, but not quite as opulent as some of the larger boats. Her sole purpose was mainly passengers, immigrants and some cargo.

The mindset is – if you feel good about it, then sit down and if you only work on it for ten minutes, you’re still moving forward. As I said earlier, there’s times I worked on this for eight hours. There were other times I worked on it for 15 minutes. Then there were days I didn’t touch it at all. I just thought about what I was gonna do. And always think ahead, always plan ahead because the way the ship is built is similar to the way they build a car to you today. They build it from the inside out. Sometimes you gotta think a couple of steps ahead and place this object before you place a skylight over it or something. You might have to build inside. For example, inside the wheelhouse, even though you can’t see inside there, there’s two seamen in there – one standing at the wheel, there’s a bell, and there’s a chart on the wall. I put those in first and then put the roof on the wheelhouse. You can’t see them but I know they’re there. Now you do too. There was 1,012 people lost aboard this ship and she sank about a mile off of the … in the St. Lawrence, about a mile from Rimouski, off shore. And she’s still there.

I primarily built this model because, at the time, most people knew about the Titanic. Hardly anybody, especially Canadians, knew about the Empress of Ireland. And I felt she needed to be remembered. That’s why I built this ship.

Return to our Empress of Ireland video gallery. →