Titanic Anniversary: Stories of Tragedy and Survival


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Take a stroll around the scenic waterfront in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and you’ll find cozy restaurants offering local Digby scallops, coffee shops like Canada’s beloved and ubiquitous Tim Hortons, boat tours where you can ignite your own mini canons, and scruffy-looking craftsman adhering to the province’s longstanding tradition of glassblowing.

But 102 years ago, Halifax’s beautiful bustling seaport was turned into a maritime mortuary. On April 17, 1912, two days after the RMS Titanic sunk into the icy-cold abyss of the Atlantic, the cable ship CS Mackay-Bennett left Halifax harbor on a somber journey to start recovering the bodies of those who lost their lives on that fateful night. Along with three other Canadian ships, the CS Mackay-Bennett pulled 328 souls out of the ocean. In total 333 victims were eventually found out of the 1,500 who had died.

Many don't know that Halifax has an intimate history with the Titanic, as it was the closest major port 700 miles west of the wreckage site. A 10-15 minute cab ride from the harbor sits Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where you’ll discover the final resting place of many of the victims of the Titanic. And then there’s the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which houses a permanent exhibition of the catastrophic event, including personal belongings of those whose lives were lost—most poignantly, two-year-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin's pair of crumpled up shoes. (Goodwin's story can be read below.)

Richard MacMichael, Coordinator of Visitor Services and Interpretive Programming at the Maritime Museum, offered us a glimpse of five passengers on the Titanic whose lives are forever bound by one of the most famous and deadliest oceanic disasters in modern history.

JOHN LAW HUME
One of the most frequently cited stories in any film about the sinking of RMS Titanic is that of the heroic bandsmen who played on as the ship sank. All of the eight musicians in Wallace Hartley’s band lost their lives and two—John Law Hume and John Clarke—are buried in Halifax. John Law Hume, who was better known as Jock was born on August 9, 1890 in Dumfries, Scotland. He had a reputation as a reliable and responsible musician and had played in a number of bands before Hartley hired him to play in the ship’s band for Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The band’s cabins were in second class and all eight were represented by a single ticket number, 250654, which was in keeping with usual shipboard practice. Hume was only 21 when he died. Originally one of the many unidentified dead brought to Halifax, Hume was buried in grave 193 in Fairview Lawn Cemetery. His death is doubly tragic in that his fiancé was pregnant at the time of the sinking and the company which employed the musicians had sent Hume's father an invoice to pay for his son's uniform despite the fact that he was dead.

MICHEL NAVRATIL
If Michel Navratil’s story reads like a cross between a spy thriller and an adventure novel, there is just cause. His is one of the most intriguing of all of the tales told by RMS Titanic and one that reached its finale in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Michel Navratil was born on August 13, 1880 in what is now Slovakia. He moved to France in 1902 and eventually settled in Nice, where he married Marcelle Carreto in 1907. They had two children, Michel and Edmond before their marriage ended in a messy separation in early 1912. Despite Michel Sr.'s endeavors, the boys were awarded to their mother’s keeping. Granted visitation rights for the Easter weekend, he promptly took the boys to Monte Carlo, where they sailed to London. Navratil’s plan was simple: a trip to New York on RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage and a new life in America for him and his sons. He bought three second class tickets and told fellow passengers that he was a widower.

GEORGE WRIGHT
One of two Haligonians aboard RMS Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage, George Wright was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on or around October 26, 1849. Seizing upon the potential provided by the new medium of telegraphy, Wright used the new technology and his passion for travel to compile a directory of international businesses for use by companies around the world. Wright’s keen business sense resulted in him amassing a huge fortune, but one that he was happy to give away. A noted and much loved philanthropist, he eagerly sought new causes to support, especially those that would improve the lives of those far less fortunate than himself.

His beautiful home on the corner of Young Avenue and Inglis Street was left in his will to the Local Council of Women. Today, the Wright House is still the headquarters for the Halifax Council. He also donated great sums of money to the local YMCA building fund and to many local churches. Two of the buildings he erected on Barrington Street still stand today. The Marble Building and the Saint Paul Building are two of the finest buildings of their era and stand as a testament to George Wright’s vision for Halifax.

HILDA MARY SLATER
Hilda has the unique distinction of being the only Titanic survivor buried in Halifax. She was born in the city on April 5, 1882 and grew up in one of the fashionable homes on Argyle Street. Her brother also had a unique distinction in that he was the captain of Queen Victoria’s private yacht. Hilda was well travelled and 1912 traveled to Europe to visit friends in both England and France. She was also using the trip to pull together an impressive trousseau prior to her wedding to the Honorable Harry Reginald Dunbar Lacon of Ottley, the son of a British Member of Parliament. Lacon lived on Denman Island off the coast of British Columbia.

Hilda boarded Titanic in Queenstown, Ireland on a second class ticket, sharing cabin with Florence Kelly. For a second class passenger, she was perhaps the one with the most impressive luggage, containing as it did a pretty expensive collection of dresses, including her satin opal and pearl wedding dress, which cost $4,000 dollars.

Both Hilda and Florence survived the sinking, but all of Hilda’s luggage was lost in the disaster. There is some discrepancy as to whether she was saved in lifeboat number nine or number 13.

After the sinking, the wedding went ahead as planned on June 1st on Denman Island. Hilda and Lacon had a son, Reginald, who served with distinction in the Royal Navy in World War II. After Lacon’s death, Hilda spent the last years of her life with her son, who lived in Norris Castle on the Isle of Wight. Hilda Mary Lacon died on April 12, 1965, and her body was returned to Halifax to rest in the Slater family plot in Camp Hill Cemetery. While local guides get some odd looks when they start to describe a survivor’s grave, the remarkable story of Hilda’s life is ample compensation for the initial confusion.
 
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