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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2008

Friendship the emphasis of Canada trip

It is amazing what prods the memory. Two events on the personal calendar last week proved it.

After a three-day outing in Canada, I returned in time to attend a musical at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian. The two may not seem connected to anyone else, but to me they were meaningful.

The play was Titanic, the tragic story that we have followed in books, movies, and museums. But none of the former has torn at my heartstrings more than did a cemetery in Canada where many of the people who lost their lives in the 1912 tragedy are buried.

Nova Scotia is a favorite travel destination, not just because of the quaint small towns on the Atlantic coast, but because of the hospitality and friendship shown to Americans.

I was not familiar with the cemeteries for Titanic victims until someone at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax mentioned it. I hailed a taxi to go to Fairview Lawn Cemetery and will never forget standing on a hill overlooking three long rows of granite headstones placed to form a ship's bow.

A closer inspection of the tombstones was even more touching. One headstone was for an unidentified 2-year-old girl. Marker No. 206 read: "Alma Paulson, 29, wife of Nils Paulson, lost with four children: ages 8, 6, 4, 2. Died April 15, 1912." Many were ship personnel including the violin and bass players in the orchestra, linen keepers, firemen, bedroom stewards, and a restaurant manager.

That was 96 years ago but Canadians have never forgotten the victims. At the graves of children and some others, there were pennies, flowers, and stuffed animals.

Halifax is 700 miles from the site of the Titanic's sinking. When the White Star Line, the ship's parent company, asked Halifax for help, the first of three ships sent was the Mackay Bennett. Carrying coffins, an undertaker, and a chaplain, the ship reached the wreck site after three days. The bodies and their personal effects were numbered. Relatives claimed some bodies and many were buried at sea. In Halifax, each of the unclaimed victims was given a memorial church service, proper burial, and a headstone.

Visitors to the maritime museum learn that the people of Canada's Atlantic maritime provinces have had their share of handling disasters. The Grand Banks, near Nova Scotia, is sub titled the Graveyard of the Atlantic; 3,000 shipwrecks are believed to be beneath the waters off the coast because of August gales, fog, and poor navigation.

In 1917, during World War 1, 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 were injured in the narrows of Halifax harbor when the Imo, a Norwegian relief ship, struck the Mont Blanc, a French cargo ship en route to Europe with 2,500 tons of explosives.

The disaster brought about a lasting friendship between Boston and Halifax after Boston responded by sending a relief train with medical personnel and supplies. Halifax expresses gratitude by sending a 40 to 50-foot tree to Boston each Christmas.

The Canadian-American tie has been seen in recent times. At Peggy's Cove, near Halifax, there is a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the Swissair's Flight 111 crash just off the coast in 1998.

And on Sept. 11, 2001, when all planes bound for the United States were ordered to land at the nearest airfield, the people of Gander, Nfld., opened their homes and hearts to 8,000 strangers.



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