Fascination with Titanic buoys tourism in Canada
Museum tours, performed historical accounts of the sinking and meals similar to the Titanic's last are all available in Halifax.
Tue, Apr 10, 2012 at 09:56 AM
TOURISM BOOM: Volunteers at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, finish a model of the RMS Titanic on April 3. (Photo: Michel Viatteau/AFP)
HALIFAX, Canada — A century after its sinking, the Titanic haunts this Canadian port where some 150 victims are buried, but has helped spur a tourist boom as it readies to commemorate the somber anniversary.
The Titanic is everywhere here.
The flags of the ship's owner, the now defunct White Star Line, are draped across the city's streets on the 100th anniversary of one of the worst nautical disasters in history.
Models and photos of the ship adorn store windows, as artists, historians, researchers, local authorities and naval museums in Halifax ready to commemorate the sinking.
"It will be commemoration, not celebration," underscored Kyla Friel, spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia culture ministry, which is helping to coordinate events including a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence to mark the time when the liner began sending distress calls.
"Our goal is to help Nova Scotians and visitors make a connection with Halifax's very historic role" in the days following the disaster, she added.
There are plans for lectures, prayers, shows and even an original play.
The Titanic, billed as the world's most luxurious passenger liner and reputedly unsinkable, left Southampton, southern England, for New York City on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic on April 10, 1912.
Four days into the voyage it struck an iceberg and sank 375 miles (604 kilometers) off Newfoundland with the loss of 1,514 of the 2,224 people on board.
Survivors were picked up by the liner Carpathia and taken to New York while four Canadian ships dispatched from Halifax with embalming supplies, undertakers, and clergy recovered 328 bodies.
Halifax taxi driver Bruce Blandin recalled how his grandfather was one of the Canadian cable ship crew who recovered the dead, while his grandmother watched the coffins being unloaded on the beaches.
"My grandmother was on the shore when they brought the bodies in. She told me about it when I was a boy. And now I tell the story to my grandchildren," he said.
Passing steamships also retrieved five more victims and 153 unclaimed bodies were eventually buried in three Halifax cemeteries.
The port itself went into mourning for the loss of one of its favorite sons, George Wright, a millionaire philanthropist who perished with the Titanic, said Garry Shutlak of the Nova Scotia Archives.
Shutlak said "the interest goes up and down" in stories of the Titanic, but he keeps memories alive with frequent talks at schools.
The anniversary is also putting a spotlight on Titanic researchers, such as marine geologist Steve Blasco who descended to the disintegrating wreck some 12,400 feet (3,780 meters) down in 1991, and his colleague Henrietta Mann.
They studied the ocean floor where the liner rests and its brittle steel hull, which Mann said could be transformed into a "heap of rust" within 30 years by bacteria "munching" on it.
"Mixing Titanic and science is good for attracting the public to lectures," Blasco said. At conferences, he plays audiences a video and takes them "for a ride in a submarine, showing them the Titanic through a small porthole."
The rescue ships also recovered numerous objects from the Titanic, including deckchairs. Purchased by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, these form part of the largest collection of Titanic memorabilia in the world.
Visitors to the permanent exhibition are invited to sit in the chairs and "imagine what it would have been like to relax aboard the most luxurious vessel in its time."
Other events include a "musical memoir" by Rosalee Peppard who portrays the only Nova Scotian to have survived the disaster, Hilda Slayter.
And there are performances of a play by Anthony Sherwood about "the only black on the Titanic," Haitian engineer Joseph Laroche, denouncing the racism of the era.
Shutlak says it is difficult to calculate the huge impact the ship has had on tourism in the Canadian province. But it is certainly on the minds of every passenger of the 120 cruise ships that dock here each year.
With an encyclopedic memory, he recalls the kosher menu offered to third class passengers and the amount of $20,000, a huge sum at the time, claimed by Slayter for the loss of her family jewels and wedding dress.
The Five Fishermen restaurant is also serving up a menu inspired by the last meal offered to first class passengers — oysters "a la russe" with a vodka, tomato and horseradish relish.
Copyright 2012 AFP American Edition