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Empress of Ireland - The Pyjamas

by Dan Conlin, Curator

Time 0:01:42


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. So it’s—they’re a very evocative object. And also for us at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, they’re important because John Langley was an Irish immigrant. He’d come to Canada just the year before. The ship Empress of Ireland brought him to Canada to set up a ranch in British Columbia. And then a year later he was taking the same ship back to Ireland to settle family affairs when the tragedy occurred. He survived the sinking. He lived to be a ripe old age. He fought in World War One, built his ranch and his family kind of cherished these pyjamas for years. Until just last year, they donated them to the Canadian Museum of History and they have loaned them to our exhibit here at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, on display for the first time ever. So they’re quite a—they really attract your attention. You almost feel as if the survivor is standing right in front of you. And I think that makes them a very powerful object because they stand in for all those aboard Empress of Ireland, the living and the dead, and we get this kind of life-sized sense of the fateful voyage that day in 1914.

Return to our Empress of Ireland video gallery. →