It’s been 100 years since the giant passenger liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. In this News in Review story we look at the impact of the disaster, especially on Canadians in Halifax, where many of the dead are buried.
The sinking of the Titanic is considered to be one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century. For 100 years, poems, songs, novels, movies, and historical accounts have recounted the tale of how a massive luxury liner, declared “practically unsinkable” by scientists, engineers, and nautical experts, ended up striking an iceberg, splitting in two and sinking into the North Atlantic with a great loss of life.
The Titanic was an engineering feat of its time—it weighed more than 46 000 tonnes and measured nearly two football fields long. It was described in the media of the period as a “floating palace.” Some of the luxuries provided to its first-class passengers included a heated saltwater pool, a library, a barber shop, squash courts, and an orchestra. Only the most privileged and wealthy people of Europe and North America could afford a first-class ticket on the maiden voyage of this massive and beautiful vessel.
However, people from more than 30 countries were on board for the Titanic’s fateful trip across the Atlantic. An especially diverse group were the passengers in steerage, or third class. These people were working-class Europeans from a variety of countries, immigrants who were travelling to the New World in hope of a safer and more prosperous life for their families.
A little before midnight on April 14, 1912, while sailing across dark and still waters the Titanic struck an iceberg. The events that ensued, especially the desperate actions of men, women, and children seeking to save themselves, have become part of modern mythology. Estimates of those who died vary from 1 490 to 1 635 of the 2 224 passengers and crew. Only 710 people escaped on lifeboats. The ship had been considered safe because it was built with easily sealed-off compartments. If, unimaginably, it was to hit an iceberg or another ship, only the compartment ruptured would flood. Builders figured that in a worst-case scenario it would take the Titanic from one to three days to sink. But fate was to prove them wrong. The Titanic sank on April 14, 1912, in a little over two hours after scraping an iceberg. By the time the nearest rescue ship was able to reach it, the only survivors were to be found huddled in lifeboats, with hundreds of lifeless bodies floating in the frigid waters.
1. What do you know about the Titanic? Where did you acquire this knowledge?
2. What makes a historical event memorable? What makes a historical event significant? What do you think is the difference between memorable and significant?
3. Think of other great disasters of the 20th and 21st centuries. Why do you think people are fascinated with disasters? How do you think they compare with the sinking of the Titanic?