, Canada, Apr 15 – Church bells pierced the night here early Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the iconic passenger liner Titanic, which is remembered in ceremonies across the world, with descendants of the victims leading the tributes.
Events marking the disaster started in Halifax, the Canadian port city from where ships sailed to retrieve bodies from the icy Atlantic waters and where 150 of Titanic’s 1,514 victims are buried.
The centenary, however, turned out to be a global event with artists, scientists and museums engaged in commemorations in Britain, Canada, Northern Ireland and the United States.
Late Saturday, participants in the memorial ceremonies gathered at the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax and marched in a procession downtown.
Marchers carried battery-powered candles and followed a horse-drawn carriage bearing a casket, stopping at some Titanic landmarks.
Warren Ervine, a geological engineer whose uncle Albert at the age of 18 was the youngest member of the Titanic crew, was among the participants.
“My father was always very sad,” Ervine recalled. “Like people coming back from the war, they did not want to talk about it. I did not even know he (uncle Albert) was a crew member until 10 years ago. I looked for him on the passenger list.”
The procession ended at City Hall for memorial performances, with more than 20 local musicians and a Canadian Forces band participating.
Nova Scotia’s Rhapsody Quintet played a selection of pieces reminiscent of music performed aboard the ship by the Titanic orchestra a century ago.
And just after midnight, at 12:27 am, Halifax fell silent to observe a moment of silence to mark the time when the last wireless telegraph message from the Titanic was received in Nova Scotia.
Afterward, bells rang from four churches where the ceremonies for the dead were held in 1912. The sky was lit up by distress flares fired into the air.
Meanwhile at sea, two cruise ships with more than 1,700 passengers on board — the MS Balmoral from Southampton and the Azamara Journey from New York City — approached each other at the site where the Titanic went down to witness a partial reenactment.
The Azamara Journey’s captain announced a collision and a commemorative distress call.
“Have struck iceberg … We require immediate assistance,” read the message. “Have struck iceberg and sinking … We are putting women off in boats.”
Passengers then threw wreaths into the sea where the drama unfolded about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Halifax 100 years ago.
The Titanic was built in the Northern Irish capital Belfast, and was sailing from the English port of Southampton on its maiden voyage toward New York when tragedy struck.
Some participants in the memorial events — many of them history buffs or descendants of passengers of the doomed voyage — came with personal stories about how the Titanic touched their lives.
Wendy Burkhart, a British Columbia resident who crossed the continent to attend the ceremonies in Halifax, told of how her ancestors narrowly missed a catastrophic trip on the ship.
“My great-great-grandparents, my grandmother and her sister were booked to travel on the Titanic,” she said.
“Their destination was Canada, where they wanted to start a new life. But then there was a family argument and it was decided to leave in the fall, rather than … spring.”
On a more personal note, Buckhart said James Cameron’s 1997 movie about the tragedy was a trigger for her marriage to college sweetheart Jerry Evans, who reminded her of the movie’s star Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I was struck by his resemblance to Jerry when we were younger,” she said. “Right there, I vowed to some day get back together with him,” she said.
Titanic 100 Society executive director Ken Pinto told The Chronicle Herald that memorial events held over the weekend would cement Halifax and Canada’s place in Titanic’s fabled story.
He said the ceremonies were “an honorable marking of the tragic event.”