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Titanic sinking remembered in silence in Halifax, the 'City of Sorrow'

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HALIFAX - A silence that fell over Halifax on Sunday was broken by the peal of a church bell as the city marked the centennial of the Titanic's sinking with songs and stories tinged with sorrow.

At a downtown public square, a throng of people gathered to remember the disaster and the city's grim connection to it.

"You only really have to be here to realize how tragic and terrible it was," said Thomas Hodgson, a lawyer who travelled from Sydney, Australia, to take part in the commemoration.

"It affects the whole world like 9-11 affects the whole world."

Earlier in the night, a funeral carriage pulled by two draught horses led a candlelight procession from Halifax's waterfront outside the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic through downtown streets.

The skirl of bagpipes filled the cool evening air as a line of people, some of whom were wearing period costumes, followed the hearse.

At the Grand Parade, the square in front of Halifax City Hall, bands played dirges and songs of revelry as actor Gordon Pinsent told the ill-fated ship's story during a performance that lasted nearly four hours.

"People marvelled, not just on hearing of the Titanic's sheer size, but on learning of her grand opulence," said Pinsent, who wore a white scarf and black tuxedo.

"She was a sight to behold — massive and majestic, shiny and sleek — everyone wanted to be part of her maiden voyage to America."

Some 1,500 passengers and crew members died on April 15, 1912, when the Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank, swallowed by the frigid waters of the North Atlantic south of the Grand Banks. There were just over 700 survivors.

"By now, Halifax — unaccustomed to making international headlines — had become the focus of the world's attention and the unlikely destination of people of great wealth," Pinsent said.

"In stark contrast to the 10,000 people who waited on the docks in New York for the Carpathia to arrive, there were no relieved crowds waiting on shore. Just a city in mourning, the City of Sorrow."

Since then, Halifax has become a pilgrimage site for history buffs, romantics and those whose ancestors died on the ship, the largest ocean liner of its time.

The city is also the final resting place for 150 of the Titanic's victims.

Carol Dobson, a 54-year-old tour guide, said the Titanic has long captivated her and she felt compelled to pay her respects to those who went down with the ship.

"We no longer have anyone alive who was on board the Titanic but there are family members, and it's a chance for them to learn about their family and what they went through," she said.

"The story of the Titanic has always fascinated me."

Marie Malay, 61, said the Titanic story resonates with people from all walks of life.

"We're not likely to be around in the next 100 years, so I'm excited to be a part of the event and everything that's going on here," said the 61-year-old resident of Sheet Harbour, N.S.

"The human tragedy is something that everybody can relate to."

A moment of silence was scheduled for 12:27 a.m. Sunday, the same time when the last wireless messages from the Titanic were heard at Cape Race, N.L.

But that was delayed by about 40 minutes after the Grand Parade performances went longer than planned and Pinsent's microphone experienced technical problems.

More events are planned for Sunday, including an interfaith memorial service at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where 121 Titanic victims are buried. Flowers will also be laid at their graves.

Later in the day, J.A. Snow Funeral Home, which prepared bodies for burial in the disaster's aftermath, will unveil a permanent memorial to the passengers and crew who died.

The Halifax commemoration was one of several events held around the world to mark the anniversary.

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Titanic was built, thousands attended a choral requiem at the Anglican St. Anne's Cathedral.

At the ship's departure's point of Southampton, England, an orchestra played composer Gavin Bryars' work, "The Sinking of the Titanic."

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