On Titanic 100th, Halifax remembers


The Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum in Halifax includes a deck chair and other mementoes from the ship. (Scott Munn photo)


Story by Mariellen Ward
Vacay.ca Senior Writer

When the ocean liner RMS Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, four hours after hitting an iceberg while on her maiden voyage from Britain to New York, she launched a legend that lives to this day. In the early hours of the morning, 1,516 souls perished in the icy waters of the north Atlantic because there were not nearly enough lifeboats on the opulent ship. Not by half.

This April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking and there are commemorations planned in many cities, including Halifax. In fact, Nova Scotia’s capital is the only officially designated Titanic city in North America because it was the base for the rescue and recovery operations. Debris from the ocean liner and hundreds of bodies were picked up by three Halifax ships and brought back to the port city, the closest to the site of the disaster with rail connections to the United States. About 150 victims are buried in three Halifax cemeteries.

Titanic book

“The Story of the Wreck of the Titanic” describes the sinking.

The Titanic story gripped me as a child because we had one of the Titanic “minute books” at our family cottage, and we used to pour over it on rainy days. Within weeks after the disaster, a number of inexpensive books — called “minute books” — were published, filled with photos, essays and first-hand survivor accounts. Ours was called The Story of the Wreck of the Titanic by Marshall Everett, and it haunted me.

For the anniversary, I will be in Halifax, live blogging and tweeting about the many events taking place. I will be visiting the Maritime Museum (which has a permanent Titanic exhibit on display), the Nova Scotia Archives and Bedford Institute of Oceanography; enjoying a dinner based on a menu from the Titanic first-class dining room; and attending the Night of the Bells at the Maritime Museum on the evening of April 14.

After a ceremony at the Maritime Museum (8:30-9:30 pm), I will join a candle-lit procession along the waterfront, passing some of the city’s Titanic-related landmarks. At 12:20 am, when the Titanic began to sink, a moment of silence will be held and flares will be set off to symbolize the ship’s call for help. On the afternoon of April 15, I will attend a Spiritual Ceremony at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where many of the victims were buried — including a certain J. Dawson.

The Legend Goes On

There are many theories as to why the Titanic still fascinates 100 years after the tragedy. It’s a story of man’s ingenuity, at the birth of the modern era, pitted against nature’s might. The ship was the largest and grandest passenger ship ever built, and it was deemed “unsinkable.” Its first-class dining rooms equalled or even surpassed the most prestigious and highest-rated restaurants in Europe, and the passenger list included some of the wealthiest Americans. So, to have it sink on its maiden voyage was horribly ironic, and a great blow to the hubris of the ship’s builders and owners.

The sinking was more than ironic, of course; it was tragic. The great ship was outfitted with every modern luxury and convenience — the first-class cutlery service included 100 pairs of grape scissors and 400 sets of asparagus tongs — but there were only enough lifeboats for about one-third of the passengers. The ship’s builders thought of everything — except the safety of their passengers.

And there is the heart-wrenching empathy we feel at the plight of all those people dying in the middle of a dark night, in the frigidly cold waters of the north Atlantic.

I will be thinking of those poor souls as I stand on the waterfront in Halifax at 12:20 am on April 15, 2012. The memory of that awful night does indeed go on.

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