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Titanic Victims Remembered In Halifax Nova Scotia

Updated on August 27, 2013

Where Many Souls of the Titanic Rest in Peace

Can it really be over 100 Years since the Titanic sank? Are we still so fascinated with its history that we just can’t seem to get enough? Well, apparently so, or certainly here in Halifax we are!

Although many books and movies have told tales about the actual sinking of this magnificent ship, little has been published about what happened to the victims; when their bodies were recovered; and where they were buried.

Little is probably known around the world of the recovery that took place to find survivors and bodies of the ones who perished on the Titanic. Questions like: who went looking for them? How did they conduct the search? And ultimately, what became of their bodies when found and how were they identified?

Halifax - The City Behind The Recovery Of The Titanic Victims

This story is about what one small city’s experience on the Atlantic Ocean that they will never forget. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was closest to the site where the ship went down, and was able to organize the search to find and recover bodies. Working directly with the owners of the White Star Line, Halifax became the main post for finding and identifying the bodies of passengers that died that fateful night.

But, before I tell you of the actual recovery, you should know a bit about our city to give you an idea of the people and its relationship with the sea. In Nova Scotia, it’s always about the ocean. We breathe, drink and sleep, with the ocean always at our feet.

Where Is Halifax?

Nova Scotia is a small province in eastern Canada, almost completely surrounded by the sea. It is known for its rough rocky shores, has a managed fishing industry, and has great knowledge of the sea. We are proud to have the second largest natural harbor in the world, next to Sydney, Australia.

Halifax, the capital city of Nova Scotia is the bustling hub of the province. The city is a smaller one, boasting about 420,000 residents, but it has everything that any large city would offer. Almost every industry in Nova Scotia depends on the ocean in some way, shape or form. Whether these companies import or export…the ocean is king somewhere along the way.

At the time the Titanic sank in 1912, what was Halifax like? Back then, Halifax was starting to grow in manufacturing and industry, while building up an enviable harbour business that could match any in the world. With its deep, sheltered harbour, Halifax was a city on the grow, and offered many opportunities. The population was around 42,000 then. It was definitely a military town at this time and not only had cargo ships at its piers, but warships and tall ships as well.

Ships Were Ready For The Recovery Mission

Seasoned seamen of our fair city had their share of tragedies too, and the knowledge of what had to be done in times of maritime emergencies. So, it was no surprise how quickly things were organized for the recovery of the missing victims of the Titanic.

From sea captains to village fishermen – all have known death on the ocean, and for centuries have accepted the fate that might befall them if they take the ocean for granted. And the seamen of the ships sent to sea to recover victims of the Titanic were no exception to the rule. They knew what had to be done.

When the Titanic went down, it didn’t take long for the airwaves to be abuzz with massive amounts of information. The White Star Line, owners of the Titanic were trying to keep tabs on so much of it, that for awhile it seemed but a mass of confusion. And according to The Maritime Museum in Halifax, “ours was the nearest major seaport with rail connections”. And so, we were called upon to help without hesitation.

Preparation For Titanic Victims' Recovery Was Swift

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic also said on their website: “Three ships were dispatched from Halifax, Mackay-Bennet, Minia and Montmagny (along with Algerine from Saint John’s, Newfoundland) found almost all of the Titanic victims. Other passing steamships in the North Atlantic found a handful of other bodies, which were immediately buried at sea. This left Halifax with a legacy of grim memories, recovered wreckage, funerals and gravesites.”

When the ships set sail for the recovery of the bodies, they had no way of knowing just how many they might find. Of the three ships that were dispatched from Halifax, after two weeks of searching, The Mackay-Bennett found 306, The Minia found 17 and the Montmagny found 4. Another ship in the area, Algerine, found 1.

CS MacKay-Bennett found 306 bodies
CS MacKay-Bennett found 306 bodies | Source
CS Minia found 17 bodies.
CS Minia found 17 bodies. | Source
Canadian Government Ship Montmagny found 4 bodies.
Canadian Government Ship Montmagny found 4 bodies. | Source

Not All Victims Were Found

Of the 1,500 bodies lost from the Titanic, only 337 of them were actually found. According to the Museum of the Atlantic wind currents scattered the remainder.

In Halifax at the time, there was only one major undertaker, Snow’s Funeral Home who provided coffins for the dead. A temporary morgue was set up at the Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax for the receipt of bodies and identification by families and loved ones who could come and claim them. However, of the 337 bodies that had been recovered, and according to the Maritime Museum, “only 150 of them are buried in Halifax. The reasons: 119 were buried at sea, 209 were brought back to Halifax. 59 were claimed by relatives and shipped to their home communities. The remaining 150 victims are buried in three cemeteries: Fairview Lawn, Mount Olivet and Baron de Hirsch.” If you visit these websites, there are pictures of the headstones engraved with the names of the deceased. The grounds of these cemeteries are very well cared for.

Recovered bodies from Titanic being brought to the Mayflower Curling Club, where a temporary morgue had to be set up.
Recovered bodies from Titanic being brought to the Mayflower Curling Club, where a temporary morgue had to be set up. | Source

Understanding Why Major Decisions Had To Be Made Quickly

There have been questions about why so many bodies had to be buried at sea, and the simple answer according to published reports at the time, is that those 119 bodies were very badly damaged (probably by icebergs, ocean waves and debris). Some were badly decomposed and unrecognizable, and with the mass scope of the numbers, the crew ran out of embalming supplies. Under the regulations at that time, only embalmed bodies were allowed to be brought ashore. Apparently, embalmed bodies that did come to shore were sent to the Medical Examiner for examinations followed by a second embalming after autopsies and identification of personal effects.

Some people believed that it was wrong to bury so many at sea, however you have to remember the time of year and lack of resources available in 1912. I am proud to know though, that my city had a member of the clergy on board the recovery ships. His duty---to perform funerals for all who were buried at sea; a very difficult and unenviable task that he did every day on the recovery ships

Transferring victims from CS Minia at Halifax Dockyard
Transferring victims from CS Minia at Halifax Dockyard | Source

An Unknown Child Is Identified

One very interesting story that you might find interesting online, is about a 2-year-old boy who was buried as unidentified with other victims in the Fairview Lawn cemetery. His identity had been wrong twice, and it was thought he never would have a name. But, eventually with DNA and a pair of shoes from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, he was finally identified as Sidney Goodwin of England after 90 years.

Actual Documents Can Be Seen At Nova Scotia Archives Website

If you want to see actual belongings, copies of letters, receipts, court documents, identification papers etc. you should check out the Nova Scotia Archives website for photos and copies of many documents. But, be warned the items will draw you in, but it’s well worth the visit online. I was amazed at how drawn in I got while reading through the various pages. Some letters are correspondence between government departments in Halifax and members of the deceased’s family, in their own handwriting.

I found that by reading about what clothes they were wearing, the jewellery they were wearing at the time, the books they were reading and the amount of money they had in their pockets, put everything into perspective for me. I guess the only part that I hadn’t expected, was how emotional I began to feel for what they had gone through. I can only imagine the terror of it all.

Halifax Has Honoured Titanic Victims Since 1912

Halifax continues to honour Titanic victims every year. Cemeteries where they are buried are lovingly taken care of regularly. We will never forget them. And, I do believe that after my research lately, I’m feeling much more connected to the souls who never made it home from Halifax. However, knowing my city and the quality of people who live here, I’m sure those who are resting in our cemeteries, as well as those buried at sea, will never be forgotten by Haligonians. (Yes, that’s what we Halifax residents here call ourselves).

Visit Halifax, Nova Scotia for your next vacation. You will find plenty of information about the Titanic and other interesting facts about our beautiful city.


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    • novascotiamiss profile image


      6 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Very interesting and well written. Unfortunately most people don't know that Halifax played an important role in the Titanic desaster and that many victims are buried here.

    • Robertgillbert profile image


      6 years ago from UK

      Nice hub


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