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This year's Kagawong History Day highlights major Canadian shipwreck

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After a two-year hiatus, Kagawong History Day on Manitoulin Island returns this month with a focus on a famous shipwreck in Canadian waters.

“This one will be about the Empress of Ireland, the ship that went down on the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” said Rick Nelson, curator at the Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum.

"It’s known as the worst Canadian peacetime maritime disaster to this date."

There will be two different presentations Aug. 11 highlighting the details and history of the crash. One will take place at 3:30 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. at the Kagawong Park Centre.

“Over 1,000 people lost their lives on the Empress of Ireland so we’ll have some experts coming in, some historians showing up to tell the story,” said Nelson.

“We have one person coming in from Montreal and a second person coming up from Toronto and we’ll have a very large representation of the Salvation Army.”

Nelson said 150 members of the Salvation Army lost their lives during the wreck. For the history day this year, members from the 2022 Salvation Army Band will be on hand as well.

The Empress of Ireland exhibit has been on display at the Old Mill Heritage Centre for two years, but will be taken down by the end of the season.

“We were lucky because of COVID they allowed us to keep it an extra year, but by Thanksgiving it will be put back in its crate and sent back to its owners,” he said.

“I’m surprised that so many people don’t know the story of the Empress of Ireland … It’s a real treat to be able to get that information out and tell people who have never heard the story, to tell it to them for the first time.”

Kagawong History Day is open for everyone and donations are encouraged, with money going back to museum programing.

Nelson said the exhibit taking its place will focus on cameras and should be set up in time for 2023.

“We have at least, as I understand, over 200 cameras at this point of different shapes and sizes that date back to Abraham Lincoln.” 

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