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Halifax cemeteries decline request to exhume Titanic victims


Flowers rest against one of the graves of Titanic victims at the Fairview cemetery in Halifax. - FILE
Flowers rest against one of the graves of Titanic victims at the Fairview cemetery in Halifax. - FILE

The Halifax cemeteries where victims of the Titanic nautical disaster are buried are not interested in taking part in a proposed project to use DNA to identify those whose names were not known.

American Titanic buff Bill Willard wants to exhume the bodies of unidentified victims in hopes of recovering genetic material for his Project Name Them All: Naming the unknown victims in Halifax.

The Titanic sank in the Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg. More than 1,500 people died when the passenger liner went down on its maiden voyage from England to the United States.

The Fairview Lawn cemetery, Mount Olivet Roman Catholic cemetery, and Baron de Hirsch Jewish cemetery are the final resting places of 150 of those who died. Of that, just over 40 remain unidentified, according to a list available through the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic website.

Cathy Driscoll-Cainen, family services co-ordinator with Catholic Cemeteries of Halifax, said Willard contacted the organization about a year ago about his project but they feel the victims should be left to rest in peace.

“We talked about it and, really, ... the people have been there a hundred years,” Driscoll-Cainen said on Friday.

“It would cause some amount of disruption. Our cemetery is used by folks for visiting and historical research and all of those things but we also do burials there so there is a question of just leaving them there. They’ve been there a long time.”

Municipality not biting

Titanic Society of Atlantic Canada president Deanna Ryan-Meister is seen at the grave of Titanic survivor Hilda Slayter at Camp Hill cemetery in Halifax, NS Thursday June 21, 2018. The society is a;ligning with the graveyard in their stated position. - Tim Krochak
Titanic Society of Atlantic Canada president Deanna Ryan-Meister is seen at the grave of Titanic survivor Hilda Slayter at Camp Hill cemetery in Halifax, NS Thursday June 21, 2018. The society is a;ligning with the graveyard in their stated position. - Tim Krochak

The non-denominational Fairview Lawn cemetery is run by the Halifax Regional Municipality. Erin DiCarlo, a spokeswoman for the city, said they are not interested.

“I can confirm Bill has reached out to the municipality to express his interest,” she said in an emailed statement. “We are not considering this request.”

Rabbi Yakov Kerzner of Beth Israel Synagogue declined to comment as he considers the matter closed since all cemeteries involved have decided not to approve Willard’s request.

The Titanic Society of Atlantic Canada is also not interested in the project.

Deanna Ryan-Meister, president of the society, said in an emailed statement that the society is in line with the cemeteries on the idea.

“The opinions of the TSAC board of directors reflect the decision of the cemeteries,” the statement said. “We understand that the cemeteries do not permit, approve or endorse Project Name Them All.

“Comments made by individuals outside of this statement are personal opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Titanic Society of Atlantic Canada.”

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