Halifax’s role in the aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking has often been described as the great ship’s undertaker. St. John’s, Newfoundland, was closer to the wreck site, but Halifax was the closest port with railway and steamship connections to the United States.
On the morning of April 17th the cable ship Mackay-Bennett was hired by the White Star Line to set out to the wreck site. They brought with them a minister, an undertaker, and a cargo of coffins, ice, and mortuary bags. The Mackay-Bennett arrived at the site on the 20th and spent almost five days searching the cold Atlantic waters for people. They recovered 306 bodies, 116 of which had to be buried at sea because of the state of the bodies. Details of this grim task can be found in the diary of Clifford Crease, a young crew member.
On April 26th, the Mackay-Bennett finally left for Halifax with 190 bodies. She was relieved by the Minia, also a Halifax-based cable ship. After over a week of searching the Minia was only able to locate 17 bodies. Two were buried at sea.
On May 6th, the CGS Montmagny left Halifax and recovered four bodies, one of which they buried at sea. The remaining three victims were brought from Louisbourg to Halifax by rail. The final ship in the recovery effort was the SS Algerine, which sailed from St. John’s on May 16th. The crew of the Algerine found one body, which was shipped to Halifax on the SS Florizel.
Bodies were unloaded on Halifax wharfs and horse-drawn hearses from undertakers like Snow’s brought the victims to the temporary morgue in the Mayflower Curling Rink on Agricola Street, chosen because of the space it provided and its abundance of ice. Many undertakers from across Nova Scotia and Eastern Canada arrived in the days and weeks afterwards to prepare bodies for burial.
Only 59 of the bodies placed in the morgue were sent out by train to their families. The remaining victims of the Titanic were buried according to assumed religion in three Halifax cemeteries in May and June. Religious services were held at St. Paul’s Church and at the Synagogue on Starr Street. Burial services were held at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Brunswick Street Methodist Church, St. George’s Church and All Saint’s Cathedral.