East Coast Cruise Day 4: Halifax
Halifax has a special importance for me as it was our entry point to Canada almost 40 years ago when we immigrated with our three young children from South Africa. Our original intent had been to land as far east as we could and then take a couple of weeks and drive the trans-Canada highway to Vancouver. This cross-Canada journey had been an adventure that my husband had wanted to do as a boy. Where this idea came from I have no idea but at last here was the opportunity for him to do it.
From a practical perspective, when we found out that there was no direct flight to St. Johns, Newfoundland but there was one to Halifax, it was a no-brainer to decide that Halifax would have to do and we would have to complete the Nova Scotia- eastwards part of the highway travel at a later date. So it was Halifax we flew into and there that we officially became landed immigrants to our new country. We spent a few days there, drove out to Peggy's Cove; bought a VW Camper to drive cross country. Got to Fredericton and the engine packed up. Not good. We spent several days - unplanned - in Fredericton waiting for parts.
Our drive across Canada to Vancouver was something I will never forget and an amazing introduction to our new home. Since that time I have visited Halifax several times - for scientific conferences and when my kids were competing in a national sports competition. But I had never approached the city by sea before, as we did on the Queen Mary 2, on this slightly overcast Tuesday, September 7th.
At the cruise ship area in the historic waterfront where we docked, the place everybody wanted to visit was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which featured an exhibition on the Titanic.
Here are some of our happy gang posing on the waterfront en route to the Museum.
It just so happened that in a mere six weeks earlier I had been ballroom dance cruising on another Cunard ship, the Queen Victoria, around the British Isles. Cunard has a strong connection with the Titanic story. There I learned a bit about the Carpathia, another Cunard ship, that was the ship that rescued the majority of the Titanic survivors.
At the Atlantic maritime Museum the exhibit on The Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship was the major draw. As you can see from the previous story about the Carpathia, Halifax was the closest major port to the site of the 1912 disaster and many of the recovered bodies were buried in Halifax.
The largest collection of wooden artifacts from the ship are also housed in the museum. Robert looked comfortably at ease in a replica of a deck chair, although it did not look too comfortable to me.
Although we arrived as a group we soon split up and I wandered slowly through the exhibit. It was sadly fascinating to see the posters telling about conditions on the ship and highlighting some of the passengers who did or did not make it.
They featured three boards about the first, second and third class fares.The cost of a single ticket on this historic voyage was $138 first class, 63 for second class, and 36 for third class.
As I wandered further through the museum my eye was caught by the exhibit on the St. Louis.
Moved as I was by the pictures and the stories of the Titanic disaster, I was angered and disgusted by the story told in the section about the fateful voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, which carried German Jews who were fleeing the gas-chambers and concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
Growing up in South Africa, my knowledge of history centered around the Great Trek and the Boer Wars, and world history was taught from a South African perspective. Although I vaguely knew about the bravery and sacrifices that Canadian troops had made in both World War's, I really had not known much about the shameful history of Canadian politicians whose bigotry and anti-semitism contributed to the enormous death toll of the Holocaust.
Several years ago, while reading some of the plays by Canadian playwright, Jason Sherman, I was introduced to one of his works called "None is too Many." This was a play based on the book by Irving Abella and Harold Troper, that described how Frederic Blair, head of immigration in the Mackenzie King government, refused to allow Jews fleeing persecution in Europe, into Canada.
Called "None is too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933 to 1948," the book argues that the Canadian Government under Mackenzie King accepted only 5000 Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's death camps - the lowest number of any of the Western countries.
The title is based on a response of an unidentified immigration agent who was asked in 1945, when the much of the atrocities were known, how many Jews would be allowed in Canada after the war. He replied "None is too many".
I was fascinated to read that King, who was an admirer of Hitler, and communed with the spirits of his dead mother and his dead dog, was Prime Minister of Canada for 24 years.You have to wonder!
Anyway back to the depressing saga of the St. Louis. This was a frequent caller at the port of Halifax, sailing between Hamburg, Germany, and the US. In 1939, when the world was struggling to come to terms with the thousands of people who were desperate to flee the Nazi onslaught, 900 emigrants many with visas for Cuba , embarked on the St. Louis to escape Germany. Turned away by the Cuban government that allowed only 29 passengers to enter Cuba, and refused admission to the US by F.D. Roosevelt's government, the ship was not permitted to land passengers at Halifax. Forced to return to Europe, many of the passengers later died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Sobibor.
Well after viewing that part of the exhibit I felt little inclined for company and left the Museum to wander back along the waterfront to the cruise ship. I was surprised at how great an impact this history had on my emotions. Not even the fresh tang of the salty sea air could counteract the weight of seeing so much evidence of death and destruction.
I needed food.