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Empress of Ireland - The Ship's Bell

by Dan Conlin, Curator

Time 0:01:17


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. And ship’s bells like this were used to keep track of watches. They’d be rung every half hour. And also as a fog-signalling device, which is very telling because fog is a big part of the Empress of Ireland story. It was fog that led to the collision, between the Empress of Ireland and the coal ship Storstad, which caused the terrible sinking, which killed over a thousand people. So the bell has a certain dark power that way. And we present it right beside two screens where we portray the eyewitness accounts of people struggling for life after the sinking. So it’s a very evocative but also kind of a very reflective and grim object. And it’s at the heart of our exhibit about the Empress of Ireland.

Return to our Empress of Ireland video gallery. →