The Empress of Asia

The C.P. R.M.S Empress of Asia was an ocean liner built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland for Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd.

When completed in May 1913 she was almost 600 feet long, could accommodate 300 first class passengers, 100 second class and 800 in steerage. Distinguished by the Royal Mail Ship (R.M.S.) prefix in front of her name, her distinctive white hull, three large funnels, and rounded cruiser stern were much admired and copied in later Empresses

With the exception of assignments during both World Wars as an auxiliary cruiser and troop carrier, she spent her entire commercial life transporting cargo and passengers from Asia to British Columbia, Canada.  One of the travelers who made this voyage aboard the vessel was Dr. Wallace B. Chung’s mother who emigrated from China to Canada in 1919.

The final voyage of the C.P. R.M.S Empress of Asia was on 5th February 1942, when as part of a convoy taking 2300 British troops and material to reinforce Singapore she was sunk by Japanese dive bombers near the island of Sultan Shoal.

The Ship’s Model

Dr. Chung had always felt a special connection with the C.P. R.M.S Empress of Asia.  A poster of the ship in his father’s tailor shop had sparked his passion for collecting C.P.R. related material as a young child.  It was also the ocean liner that had brought his mother to Canada when she had emigrated from China.

Originally made in 1913 by the ship’s builders, the model of the C.P. R.M.S Empress of Asia was found by Dr. Chung in the basement of a condominium building in Toronto.  The ship’s model was in very poor condition, but Dr. Chung was determined to fully restore it.  It would take 4000 hours over six years to return the model to the spectacular condition it now displays at Rare Books and Special Collections, in the Chung Collection exhibition room.

Dr. Chung notes, “It had been left for 30 years in an unheated garage. It was in terrible condition, paint flaking, rusted, funnels broken, and pieces pulled off by children. Any bits broken off were thrown in a bucket.  Everything had to be rebuilt from the inside out, the wood and metal sanded down and re-painted. All the lifeboats were rebuilt, the railings and many fittings replaced, the propellers re-carved. Nothing was contracted out.”

This exacting work included rebuilding all the ship’s lifeboats, each comprising more than 57 tiny wooden pieces. Dr. Chung constructed these in his basement study with the same precision, using the same materials, as the original model builders had done before him. Numerous exquisitely fine details such as working turnbuckles and threaded stanchions were also meticulously restored.

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