Halifax, Nova Scotia was one of our ports when we took our Canada/New England cruise. I was stoked because I had Nova Scotia on my bucket list. (This was before I understood Nova Scotia was one of Canada’s provinces, not a city. That’s one thing our jaunts to Canada have helped teach me: what exactly the different Canadian provinces and territories are!)
Prior to arriving, I knew of Halifax’s involvement with Titanic. However, while we were there I learned what an interesting history Halifax has, and what a haunted port city it is.
HALIFAX’S TITANIC CONNECTION
Halifax was among the places I wrote about that Titanic’s legacy still haunts. In that post I had written that two ships from Halifax responded to the Titanic tragedy. According to a history put together by Novia Scotia’s government, three ships from Halifax actually responded. (Although, four Canadian ships total were dispatched to recover Titanic’s dead.)
The ships involved in retrieving the bodies were:
- Mackay-Bennett, a Halifax-based Cable Steamer. Number of bodies recovered: 306. (Except it only brought back 190 because 116 had to be buried at sea.)
- The Minia. Number of bodies recovered: 17. (But it only brought back 15 because two had to be buried at sea.)
- CGS Montmagny, a Canadian government vessel. Number of bodies recovered: four. (Returning with three, as one was buried at sea.)
- The SS Algerine. (The only ship to sail from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.) Number of bodies recovered: one. (Which was taken to Halifax by way of the SS Florizel.)
A temporary morgue was set up in the Mayflower Curling Rink. Of the 209 bodies recovered, only 59 were sent to their families. The rest were buried in three of the city’s cemeteries. Fairview Lawn interred the most of Titanic’s recovered dead, 121. Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery laid to rest 19. Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery interred 10.
Visitors are allowed to tour the graves. Fairview Lawn is the most popular, with the grave of the unknown child perhaps being the most heart-wrenching.
However, thanks to the marvels of modern science, the unknown child’s remains were DNA tested. It is now known that he was Sidney Goodwin, 19-months-old. His whole family –parents and five siblings– died the night Titanic sunk. May their souls rest in peace.
THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION
A piece of Halifax’s history that immediately caught my attention was the Halifax Explosion. Many places seemed to have signs referencing the event. I had no idea what they were talking about, so I finally asked someone. That’s when I learned in 1917 the SS Mont Blanc, a cargo ship carrying wartime explosives, collided with the SS Imo in a section of the Halifax Harbour known as “The Narrows.” 2,000 people died (1,500 of them instantly), with estimates of 9,000 being injured.
It was the largest man-made explosion until they started testing atomic bombs. But to get an idea of just how devastating it was, I’m using Wikipedia’s description of it, since it sums it up so succinctly.
Every building within a 16-mile radius, over 12,000 total, was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Stoves and lamps overturned by the force of the blast sparked fires throughout Halifax, particularly in the North End where entire city blocks were caught up in the inferno, trapping residents inside their houses.
Even before the explosion, ghost stories about various people and places within the city circulated. After the explosion, new ones quickly cropped up.
THE FIVE FISHERMAN: HALIFAX’S MOST EERIE EATERY?
One building of note that has connections to both Titanic’s dead as well as the Halifax Explosion’s is the building that houses The Five Fisherman restaurant.
In 1912, the business in that location was John Snow & Co. Funeral Home. The Titanic’s wealthier dead, like John Jacob Astor IV and Charles M. Hayes, president of Grand Trunk Railway, temporarily stayed in Snow Funeral Home until their bodies could be shipped to their loved ones.
Then, five years later in 1917, Snow Funeral Home was among those that handled the hundreds of bodies of the Halifax Explosion. There’s a photo on The Five Fisherman’s site, under the Halifax Explosion tab on the History page that shows row after row of coffins stacked atop one another outside the building. It’s a very disturbing and sobering image and really drives home the devastation that city experienced as a result of this tragedy.
Also under the History link, The Five Fisherman include something I always appreciate businesses being willing to talk about: their Hauntings. The paranormal activity reported by staff includes everything from objects moving to sinks turning on and off to apparitions to being touched and hearing voices –right smack in the middle of the day.
HALIFAX: PART OF A PROVINCE THAT PROMOTES ITS PARANORMAL TOURISM
Speaking of sites that list hauntings, I love, love, LOVE (did I mention love?) when I come across visitor bureau’s that promote their city or region’s paranormal tourism. Nova Scotia most certainly does. Under the Things to See & Do tab on NovaScotia.com, there is a Haunted Nova Scotia section that lists some of Halifax’s popular haunted places, as well as the province’s overall.
I was shocked that one of the places it didn’t mention was one that conducts ghost tours: The Halifax Citadel.
We had a big time touring Halifax’s haunted Citadel when we visited. I wish our ship had been docked overnight so we could’ve signed up to do the ghost tour. It looked neat.
However, one of the places the Haunted Nova Scotia page did mention was one I was curious if it had reports of paranormal activity or not: The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
As happens in many haunted museums, lights turn on and off inexplicably in this one too. Staff claims activity surrounds “two exhibits in particular: the light from the historic Sambro Lighthouse, and the marble statue of Captain James Farquar.” Interesting.
Overall, I was smitten with Halifax, and not just because it was absolutely loaded with stories of the paranormal. It was a great walking city, the locals were friendly, and there was tons to see and check out.
I’m just kicking myself I didn’t take a picture of this one church we passed as we headed back to the ship. My feet were done (this is back when I was struggling with a bad case of plantar fasciitis), it had started raining, and I was hungry. However, I distinctly remember thinking, “That church definitely has ghost stories.”
Come to find out, it was St. Paul’s Church. There’s a stained glass window that has apparently been replaced over and over again since the explosion. Not because it keeps getting broken, but because the impression of man’s head keeps appearing there.
Rumor has it it’s a man who was inside the church during the explosion and was beheaded due to the force of shattering glass. Another theory has it it’s a reverend who served in the church. I’m so mad I didn’t stop now. (However, I remember how miserable I was back then due to the pain in my heel. I forgive myself.)
IMAGES FROM HALIFAX