CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 11 . . . . February 2, 2001
"It took about one day. It was a day of denial as the White Star Line issued brave press statements, a day of slow realization as relatives onshore hoped for word of another rescue vessel, a day of media frustration as questions could not be answered. All to no avail Titanic was lost. The sinking of Titanic cut across all social boundaries. It did not matter how wealthy you were, or your rank on the vessel; on April 15, 1912, if you didn't get a place in a lifeboat, you were lost. The assumption that technology can always win over nature suffered a devastating blow that April night a lesson that perhaps each generation must relearn and remember, again and again." (p. 70)This is a difficult book to categorize. Notwithstanding the title, the book has relatively little to say about the ill-fated voyage or the actual sinking not that the recent plethora of books, articles, documentaries and movies on that topic leave much new to be offered on those themes. But Titanic Remembered does, in fact, have a distinct contribution to make, rather than just offering yet another rehearsal of an all-too-familiar tale. The book is based on the long-term interest of its author, a marine geologist whose professional specialization allows him to provide some intriguing insights about the treacherous iceberg flows of the Labrador Current and about the ocean floor where the ship came to rest. Alan Ruffman has also had a long association with the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax; and the copious and, in many cases, previously unpublished photographs contained in the book are in large part from the collection of the museum. (Not surprisingly, the book has been designated as the official guidebook and souvenir book of the Maritime Museum Titanic exhibit.) The museum staff, as well as a range of other authorities and agencies, have been consulted and involved in the preparation of the text, which is characterized by a painstaking attention to detail (a detail that, in some sections, might be more attractive to aficionados than to general readers, but which, nonetheless, provides a useful reference touchstone for the stories and legends that inevitably encircle an event of this significance). The effort to set out the factual record does, however, have the effect of making the book seem a bit more like a compartmentalized museum guide than a coherent narrative. Nonetheless, the sum of the parts is engaging and informative, and will appeal to a wide range of interests. Individual chapters are given over to the technology that gave birth to the Titanic and her siblings; to the settings and circumstances of the so-called Empire Port of Halifax, which, because of its position in the North Atlantic sea-routes, became centre stage for the events following the sinking; to the nature and dangers of North Atlantic travel (and to the question of whether the Titanic was put at unnecessary risk); to the actual sinking; to the aftermath of search and rescue; to the myriad problems and arrangements surrounding the recovery, identification and burial--at sea or in Halifax--of the bodies recovered (details which are of clear interest to the author, but perhaps in more than necessary detail in the text); to brief but interesting stories of the lives of some of those lost and of some of the survivors; to the various searches for the wreckage (and to their attendant controversies and political wrangling), along with some interesting facts about the effects of the sea on such artifacts. The very effective and extensive use of approximately one hundred photographs many in colour provides a fascinating illustration of the objects, people and locations alluded to in each of the chapters. As the title suggests, special attention is given to the city of Halifax itself and to the lasting physical reminders of that dramatic moment in its history.
The sinking of the Titanic is a case of an event becoming legend; and, in this case, a legend that is a important part of contemporary Canadian as well as international history. It is, therefore, useful and instructive to be able to examine just how such a legend can grow, and how reality and fantasy can intertwine in that growth. In this respect, Titanic Remembered, although comparatively brief, makes a useful and interesting addition to the social history of Canada, and particularly to maritime Canada. At the same time, it provides an instructive lesson on how balanced and objective assessments of emotionally charged events can be built without any loss to the intrinsic interest of the events themselves.
Alexander D. Gregor is the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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