The Empress of Ireland - Historic Places Days

The Empress of Ireland

Coulter, Manitoba
32Q8+FCJ Coulter, Manitoba, Canada
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Geocache brought to you by Turtle Mountain Souris Plains Heritage Association. Lat: N 49°05.322′  Long: W 100°59.039′     Visit our website at for more of this story.

For centuries the Souris River served as a highway of transportation.


The Empress of Ireland in Coulter, Manitoba.

In 1908 “Captain” Hunt Johnston Rolston Large, a blacksmith from Coulter, Manitoba, decided to build a steamship. Due to his winning personality and big Irish heart, everyone in the community had a good word to say about him, though some were skeptical that the vessel would float when the time came to test it.

Large built his ship mostly out of recycled materials: a dismantled boxcar and the inside of an old house provided most of the wood he used in construction. The metal parts of the boat were made by Large himself in his little workshop, South Antler Steelworks, in Coulter (the foundations of which are still visible in Coulter today). The ship was deliberately built narrow enough so that she would fit between the posts of the CPR bridge that crossed the Souris River.

He named her the Empress of Ireland, and though she lacked a professional touch she was still a good-looking vessel.

The Empress was launched in the spring of 1909 on the Souris River right below Coulter. The townspeople gathered to watch to see if it would float or not—and it did! All season the vessel plied the Souris River between Napinka, MB and Scotia, ND.

In the summer of 1910 the Empress left the Souris River to ply more lucrative waters: those of the Assiniboine near Brandon. She was transported by train and used as an excursion boat during the Brandon Fair. At the end of the summer she was tied down for the winter.

The Empress didn’t make it until spring: an unfortunate accident caused her to burn down to the ice. All that was left was a portion of the hull, her two big boilers and the paddlewheels. Large reinvented her as a coal barge the next spring, but couldn’t bear to paint the word “Empress” on a barge, so renamed her the Assiniboine Queen. Severe floods in the spring of 1913 finally sank the craft.

One of the vessel’s steel paddlewheels, made by Large’s own hands, rests in Coulter Park at Sourisford.


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32Q8+FCJ Coulter, Manitoba, Canada
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