Many people know the story of Titanic, the White Star liner that sank on her maiden
voyage in 1912, taking more than 1,500 lives. Far fewer know the story of the recovery
of passengers and their effects, coordinated out of the port city of Halifax, Nova
The purpose of the Halifax-Titanic Connection excursion is to provide an educational
journey into the role of Halifax in the aftermath of the Titanic tragedy. And, this
is something that is done very well. Full narration was provided by our guide who,
in our case, was a history teacher on summer holiday. He was definitely a wealth
of knowledge, and differentiated the true stories of Titanic from the myriad myths
in a matter-of-fact, non-condescending manner. I am very well-versed on the history
of Titanic and not only do I give the tour high marks, I even learned a few things.
Full disclosure: I took this tour several years ago. However, in perusing the shore
excursion pages of various cruise lines’ Web sites today, the tour is described exactly
how it was when I booked it. One advantage of a current tour, of course, is that
continuing research into Titanic is providing new information, certainly enhancing
the terrific tour I experienced.
Our excursion began with a one-hour visit to the fabulous Maritime Museum of the
Atlantic (which houses an extensive collection of Titanic artifacts). I was already
familiar with the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic—I make it a stop on nearly every
visit to Halifax—yet seeing the Titanic exhibit in this context was an amazing experience.
Having an expert guide enhanced this visit, giving me a new understanding of items
I had seen before as well as introducing me to some I had somehow overlooked.
One quick note—our museum tickets were good for admittance for the rest of the day,
so a morning tour is best for those who want to spend more than the allotted one
After reboarding the bus, we were driven past several key areas associated with the
recovery operation. This included several sites to which victims’ bodies were delivered,
such as the location of the former Mayflower Curling Club, which had been transformed
into a temporary morgue. We also passed several churches where Halifax residents
held services for those who had perished. Seeing these sites added a personal dimension
to the tragedy.
In total, recovery ships from Halifax found 328 bodies. Each was given a number corresponding
to the order of recovery—yet, due to a communications glitch, numbers 324 and 325
were not assigned. We also learned that of the 209 were brought back to the city,
59 were claimed by their families. (The rest were buried at sea due to their condition.)
The remaining 150 were buried in three cemeteries in Halifax. And, a visit to one
of these cemeteries was the most emotional part of the excursion.
Most of the victims, 121 to be precise, are buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, a non-denominational
cemetery located approximately 4 miles/6.5 km northwest of the cruise ship terminal.
The headstones are laid out in several rows forming the shape of a ship's hull. Most
of the markers are plain, as provided by the White Star Line. Others are more lavish,
paid for with additional, optional funding. Yet, all have one common characteristic—the
date April 15, 1912. Our tour guide brought us to several markers to share the stories
of those who were buried there. Certainly, one may visit Fairview Lawn Cemetery without
a guide—yet, his knowledge made the experience much more moving. There were few dry
eyes among us.
The other two cemeteries are Baron de Hirsch (a Jewish cemetery in which 10 passengers
were buried) and Mount Olivet (a Catholic cemetery, 19 passengers). We passed both
of these on the bus. This was perhaps the only disappointment with the tour, although
I knew in advance we would not be stopping here.
As sad as this tour was, I do recommend it for those who want to learn more about
Titanic. As I wrote earlier, I already had a strong knowledge of the history of the
ship and her passengers, including the important role of the people of Halifax. Even
so, having a professional guide made this excursion more meaningful to me, and enabled
me to get accurate answers to my questions. And, despite the preparations I had made
by reviewing many of my reference materials before the trip, nothing compares to
the emotion of actually being there. The Halifax-Titanic Connection tour remains
a highlight of my shore visits, and I would repeat it should the opportunity present