Patricia and Andrew and I went on a little history tour of Halifax today. Such an interesting day. We started with the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, which has a section with 150 graves of people drowned when the Titanic sank. The White Star Line, to whom the Titanic belonged, commissioned four Canadian ships to recover as many bodies as possible from the disastrous event. These ships found 328 bodies. Many were buried at sea, but 209 were returned to Halifax. Many were unidentified and their markers simply state the date of their death and the number assigned to them as they were found. Very careful notes were made of the victims, their personal items and clothing, and of the 150 buried in Halifax, only 40 remain unidentified.
Among the stones are more prominent ones, where the family or friends of the victims had augmented the basic memorial stones provided by White Start Line to identify their loved ones. One of the most prominent of these was the stone of Ernest Freeman. Ernest was the Chief Steward of the ship and one of the owner’s favourite employees. Freeman argued with Ismay that his boss should be the one to get on the lifeboat because someone would need to deal with the media and the families of victims. Freeman stayed on the ship to help get people onto life rafts and went down with the ship. Ismay had the headstone erected to honor Freeman to “commemorate a long and faithful service”. It was both fascinating and extremely moving to walk among the graves of such a monumental loss of life.
On our next stop was at the Mont-Blanc Anchor Site. On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in the narrows of the Halifax harbour. The French vessel, the SS Mont-Blanc, was laden with explosives. The collision caused a fire and, knowing what the ship was loaded with, all hands abandoned ship. The French ship, of course, exploded and threw steel and detritus in all directions. Such was the force of the explosion that a piece of the anchor was thrown almost three miles from the harbour to this location. Over 2000 people were killed in the accident – many of them were bystanders who were injured or killed by the debris. Something like 691 victims were blinded by the glass blown out of the windows of nearby buildings. The need to deal with this crisis was such that the government established an organization to deal with it. This was the birth of the CNIB.
One of the inspirational stories of this tragedy was that of Vince Coleman. He was a train dispatcher for the CNR. He and his colleague were warned of the impending explosion that would result from the SS Mont-Blanc being on fire. Knowing there was a train due shortly with over 300 people on board, Vince Coleman took the time to send a dispatch to the train to tell them to stop out of range of the explosion. He then continued to send warnings along the rail line to all trains bound for Halifax. This act cost him his life as his final message was sent: "Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbour making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys." A Canadian heritage minute re-enactment can been seen on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rw-FbwmzPKo
Our final stop of the day was at Pier 21 – the Canadian Museum of Immigration. Another fabulous and thought-provoking exhibit. Pier 21 was the major immigration centre of Canada from 1928 to 1971. The stories of immigrants and refugees are tragic and inspiring all at once. We can never relate to the set of circumstances, fear and desperation that leads people to abandon everything they own, get into a fishing boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean and hope to be received favourably by the country they land in. Then to face the discrimination and hardship of re-establishing your family in a foreign country with a different language and culture. I hope we never do have to relate. My favourite part of this exhibit was the Myth/Fact bits throughout the museum. So often I see the limited, narrow statements of what trouble “immigrants” cause by coming to our country and it is just wrong. I challenge you to listen to their stories of heartbreak and loss and say they don’t deserve to make a life here. I challenge everyone to arm themselves with facts rather than Facebook memes to better understand what actually goes on in our immigration process, and to look back on history and realize the contribution of immigrants to the development and growth of our country – right back to our own ancestors.
On the way out of Pier 21, we took a quick peek into the gift shop where I was seduced by Peace by Chocolate. This was begun by a Syrian refugee family who had been chocolatiers in their home country. They began by making the chocolates in a shed in their yard for the local community they arrived in - Antigonish. They have grown their company so they are now able to produce their chocolates from a factory and employing 20 people. They were financially independent within their first year of operations. A true success story of perserverance and determination. Yes, clearly immigrants are a burden to our society (insert sarcasm here....).
We wrapped up our day with a short stroll down the Halifax harbour waterfront. A perfect conclusion to our afternoon. Returning home at a reasonable hour, we had time for a cocktail and some chill time before Andrew called us to table for yet another fabulous dinner of salmon, pasta and asparagus with dill sauce. Life is tough. I might actually get this blog posted so I can get to bed in decent time tonight. Looking forward to more explorations tomorrow.
Also included today, as I forgot yesterday, are the photos of me not being a dog person…the dogs don’t seem to know it.