April 14, 2017 9:01 am
Updated: April 14, 2017 9:06 am

Mystery behind source of Titanic headstones solved

A Halifax geologist took on an investigation to pinpoint what quarry the 149 Titanic headstones came from.


There are 150 headstones belonging to victims of the Titanic in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery.

All but one of them are made out of the same stone; the one that isn’t has since been replaced by the family.

According to Halifax geologist Barrie Clarke, it’s no secret that the stones are made out of gabbro, or as it’s known in the stone industry, black granite.

But the big question Clarke and the City of Halifax had in the late 1990s was — what quarry did the stone come from?

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“When the city decided that it wanted to replace that stone, the question was, ‘Well where did it come from?’ And there was no archival record,” Clarke said.

The cemetery is maintained by the Parks Department of the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“The municipality is responsible for the overall operations and maintenance of the cemetery. As well as the monuments that represent those unidentified victims of the Titanic,” Lucas Wide said, a senior communications adviser with HRM.

The headstone, in need of repair at the time, belonged to Thomas F. Baxter.

Clarke says that after James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic was released, there was a surge in visitors to the cemetery.

“Everybody wanted to come and see these headstones, and it didn’t look nice to have one that was damaged,” Clarke said.

That’s when it was realized the exact quarry where the stones came from was unknown.

So began an investigation led by Clarke and a geology team to try and pinpoint the origin.

The headstones were purchased by the White Star Line in the fall of 1912.

The European-based liner owned the fateful RMS Titanic and wanted to pay tribute to the lost souls who were recovered by Nova Scotia search-and-rescue teams.

That link to Europe, initially led Clarke to suspect the stones could have originated from Scotland.

He’d seen similar black granite there before, and thought there could be a link.

But it’s when they discovered the geological age of the gabbro that the investigation really got moving.

“We found out that is was [the gabbro] 421 million years old, and once we knew it was 421, then that ruled out Scotland, that ruled out Nova Scotia, but it included rocks that were in New Brunswick and in Maine,” Clarke said.

Eventually, Clarke found a match in New Brunswick.

Using old aerial photos from the New Brunswick archives, he was led to the Southwest of the province.

From there he began searching for old quarries, which had been overgrown after decades of inactivity.

“There were 16 black granite quarries in the area of St. George,” he said.

He finally locked down an exact gabbro match in a small community called Bocabec, N.B., ending years of trying to locate where the 150 headstones came from.

“Now, if there is any more damage to these headstones, the City of Halifax will know where they can go and get an exact match,” he said.




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