My main reason for visiting Halifax was it’s association to the Titanic disaster. The city was the closest port from where the Titanic sank back in April, 1912. It was no wonder there was a section in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic dedicated to the calamity.
With over 2,200 people on board only 705 survived. Even after death, strict class barriers were maintained. First class passengers were removed from the Mackay-Bennett rescue ship in coffins. Second and third-class passengers were taken away in canvas bags. And crew members were taken off in open stretchers. Two hundred and nine bodies came to Halifax. They were numbered as soon as they were pulled from the sea and all personal effects put into bags. Further details such as tattoos, clothes or jewellery were noted and photographed. Bodies were taken to a temporary morgue in the curling rink where fifty-nine were identified by relatives and shipped home by rail.
Barnstead’s system to aid identification was later used by his son to handle and identify bodies from the Halifax explosion in 1917. As a French steamship, Mont-Blac entered the harbour with an explosive cargo, a Norwegian ship was heading into the Atlantic through the same confined channel. The ships collided. The Mont-Blac burst into flames and within twenty minutes came near Pier 6 and exploded, killing and maiming spectators. Even later in 1992, Barnstead’s meticulous records allowed researchers from Titanic International to put names on six previously unidentified Titanic graves.
Crews of the Halifax cable ships that recovered Titanic bodies followed an old tradition of keeping fragments of notable shipwrecks. Pieces of wood from the Titanic were carved into keepsakes such as cribbage boards but never sold as souvenirs.
Three Halifax cemeteries, Fairview Lawn (non-denominational), Baron de Hirsch (Jewish) and Mount Olivert (Catholic) contained one hundred and fifty bodies with about one third of the graves bearing no name. In Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Titanic graves were lined up in several rows, some bearing heartfelt inscriptions that weighed heavily on the reader.