Did it take particular courage to board an ocean liner to cross the Atlantic three months after the sinking of the Titanic? Certainly, Percy was among many hundreds on board the Empress of Britain, a Canadian Pacific Railway liner when it left Liverpool on July 12, 1912.

empressofbritainThe ship’s manifest listed him among its third-class passengers destined for Canada. It noted that he was a single male, his country of birth was England, and that his “Race of people” was English. He gave his occupation as labourer, and it was noted that he intended to continue in that occupation when he reached Toronto.  His religious denomination was recorded as “C of E.”  At least, that is what it said at the top of the column, and a tick was entered on every line below (even for a man identified as Russian) except for one Welshwoman who was noted as Roman Catholic.

Written over the manifest, and obscuring some of the entries, are notes about the passengers’ purpose: several are noted as tourists; one man is to be married, and the Welshwoman, travelling with two small children, seems to have a husband waiting for her. Over Percy’s entry is written “Brother.”

Ted had had a rocky start in Canada: his infant son had died shortly after arrival. His mother, Alice, said that Canadian food had not agreed with him.  Having first been employed with the CPR, Ted had joined and done well with the Great Northern Railway, and Alice had slowly got used to the new country, though she found Bird’s Custard Powder hard to find in Quebec. A second child, born in 1910, was named Elsie Mary, after Ted’s sister and his mother.

Immigration card

The immigrant was instructed to keep this inspection card (actually a piece of paper) “carefully for three years.” That was 114 years ago.

If you look carefully at this document, you will see that he is identified as having travelled steerage. Third-class, as on the ship’s manifest, sounds rather nicer.

The Empress of Britain, having survived a close encounter with the same ice field that sank Titanic, had her own nasty collision in the St. Lawrence River, ten days after Percy disembarked at Quebec. Travelling too fast for the weather conditions, Empress of Britain sank the collier Helvetia, but the crew was rescued. It was in the St. Lawrence River that Empress of Britain‘s sister ship, the Empress of Ireland, struck another collier two years later. This time it was the ocean liner that sank, with a tremendous loss of life.


Copyright 2016. See “About this project.”

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