So the family story goes, my great-grandparents, John and Anne Gaskell, were crossing the Atlantic when the Titanic went down April 15, 1912.
They had left Nova Scotia, where John had been working as a coal miner in Sydney Mines, to go back to their native England.
They were accompanied by their young children — my great aunt Irene (known as Renie), aged six months, and my great aunt Alice, aged about two or three. My grandmother, Lillian, wouldn’t be born for another two years.
When news hit of the Titanic’s sinking, the ship my ancestors were on was sent to pick up the bodies of some of the 1,514 people who died in the accident, and bring them to Halifax.
My great-aunt Renie was held in the air by the crew at the scene of the accident, and her parents were told that she would be one of the last people alive to have seen the debris of the Titanic. This turned out to not be the case, as she died in the late 1990s.
This 100-year-old piece of family history probably would have faded into time like a sepia photograph had the story of the ship’s sinking not pervaded popular culture as it has.
Although I was born 68 years after the disaster, I don’t really ever remember not being aware of the Titanic.
My dad used to have a subscription to National Geographic’s video series. Maybe I was a strange kid, but I became obsessed with several of those videos, watching them over and over.
One of my favourites was about a forest-dwelling African tribe called the Baka. The other was about the oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985.
There was even a song about the Titanic we sang while washing the dishes at the summer camp I worked at as a teen. It goes: “Oh, they built the ship Titanic to sail the ocean blue. They thought they built a ship the sea would never go through. But the good Lord raised his hand, said the ship would never land. Oh, it was sad when the great ship went down.”
Of course, when I was in Grade 12, I went to see James Cameron’s three-hour-long epic, Titanic, along with everyone else of my generation.
The movie has been released once again — in 3-D no less — just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.
Five years ago, during a trip out west, my cousin Jenny and I went to see an exhibition of artifacts taken from the wreck of the Titanic at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
Many of you may have also seen the exhibition as well, as it was also on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
I thought the exhibition, although interesting, was slightly ... creepy. We were given boarding passes containing names of actual Titanic passengers at the beginning of the tour, and at the end we got to figure out whether that passenger survived or not.
Many of the artifacts were in remarkably good condition. However, I wondered at the morality of recovering them in the first place. It seemed rather like robbing a grave.
Sudburians wishing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic are invited to dress up in their best 1912 gear, and attend an event at Science North’s Vale Cavern April 14.
The event, which raises funds for the science centre, will recreate the food and atmosphere on the ship, and will also include an open bar, live entertainment, live auction and prizes for best costumes. Tickets cost $250 each. For ticket information or availability, phone 705-523-4629 or visit sciencenorth.ca/titanic.
How do I plan to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic? Perhaps I’ll reflect a little on my relatives, who bravely crossed the treacherous Atlantic several more times during the early 20th century, leaving England again to immigrate to Wyoming, then heading back to England, and finally settling in Guelph, Ont. in the early 1920s.
I wonder what they’d think about me writing about their experiences 100 years later? I think I’ll also dust off my old VHS copy of Titanic, which is sitting in a box in my parents’ basement, and get lost in the story of Jack and Rose.
Heidi Ulrichsen is a reporter at Northern Life.
Posted by Heather Green-Oliver