HALIFAX – The facts surrounding the sinking of the Titanic are well known as is the significant role Halifax played in the aftermath of the disaster.
But, a new exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the day the magnificent ocean liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic will shed a bit more light on how Halifax residents reacted to the tragedy.
The Nova Scotia Archives will unveil a collection of diaries and newspaper clippings written in the days following the loss of the ship and 1,522 passengers and crew.
Archivist Darlene Brine says the display offers more personal perspectives on the disaster and the journals, by prominent local residents or those involved in recovery efforts, help capture what Halifax went through as the bells tolled the arrival of cable ships carrying the bodies of those who died when the ship went down.
“I think people were very upset about it and wanted to be helpful, and felt very badly for the families and the victims,” she says.
Among the four diaries in the archives’ display is one belonging to Harry Piers, who was the head of the Nova Scotia Archives at the time.
“The news gets worse & worse about the immense steamer “Titanic,” a passage from Piers diary reads. ” Today it became known that she had sunk after being struck by the iceberg, and the loss of life is expected to exceed a thousand – the worst marine disaster there has ever been. People are simply astounded by the terrible news.”
“He was very sincere and (it’s) just sort of like walking down the street with him,” Brine says of his entries depicting the coffins lined up outside of Snow’s Funeral Home and the bells ringing for the arrival of Titanic victims.
She says thanks to Piers’ accounts we know now it wasn’t just church bells ringing for the dead, but also the fire bells.
Although the archives has had the diaries for a number of years, it’s the first time they’ll be on display in this sort of manner, Brine explains.
Also in the collection are diaries belonging to Dr. John Forrest, the president of Dalhousie University until 1911, which is a bit more documentary-like with his chronicling of longitudes and latitudes, dates and numbers of victims.
Also among the collection is the journal of 21-year-old businessman Cyril Stairs, who recounts the monetary loss that went along with the ship sinking.
But one tome that won’t be unveiled until the day of the centenary is that of Clifford Crease, who was aboard the MacKay-Bennett cable ship, which brought back the majority of the recovered bodies.
Crease’s account of recovering bodies is almost haunting in how factual it is:
“Fine weather started to pick up bodies at six a.m. and continued all day till five thirty P.M. Recovered fifty one bodies, forty six men four women and one baby. Burried (sic) twenty four men at sea at eight fifteen P.M.”
The baby Crease writes of was the fourth body to be pulled from the Atlantic and would famously become the “unknown child” after it was laid to rest in Halifax’s Fairview Lawn Cemetery.
The boy would remain unidentified, despite a couple of erroneous attempts, until 2011 when a DNA test revealed the body belonged to 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin.
The archives will show Crease’s diary at a special even Saturday, April 14, but the full transcript is available on the N.S. Archives homepage.
The special display, called “The News Gets Worse and Worse – Halifax and the Titanic” can be seen Tuesday through Friday during business hours at the Nova Scotia Archives.