Extra Research for Season 5 – Episode 10 – Hide-and-Seek
In the early 1800s, as Halifax went through a boom, the parishioners from St. Paul’s Anglican Church saw a need for a school to help keep the local children occupied during the day. In 1818 the National School, Canada’s first free public school, opened its doors to both boys and girls growing up in the coastal colonial town with a focus on “educating the poor on religion and moral duties.”
The school quickly outgrew the four-story space and was forced to move out to Dalhousie College. The next owner, Anna Leonowens, a writer and educator best known as the inspiration for the hit musical The King and I, used the space to house the Victoria School of Art and Design. What would eventually become the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, Leonowens’ art school boasted world-class artists as teachers including Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer. In 1883, the building became home to Snow & Company Undertakers, which is still in operation under the name J.A. Snow Funeral Home, making it Halifax’s oldest running funeral home.
When the ship went down
By 1912, John Snow and his sons, John R. Snow, Jr. and Will. H. Snow, were running the most notable funeral home in the Maritimes. Which is why, when the Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland in April of the same year, White Star Lines hired Snow & Company to assist with the recovery process. In an official statement Snow indicates he was hired by White Star Lines to help embalm bodies aboard the MacKay Bennett, another White Star Line ship. Snow and the other crew on the MacKay Bennett were able to locate 306 bodies, but with limited embalming supplies 116 of them had to be buried at Sea.
While the majority of the bodies were returned to Halifax and kept in a make-shift morgue set up in the Mayflower Curling Rink, while arrangements were made with family, the bodies of some of the wealthier victims were kept in Snow’s building in a more appropriate and respectable surroundings. The American industrialist John Jacob Astor and Charles M. Hayes, the president of Grand Trunk Railway, were among those who received this special treatment salubrious surroundings of Snow’s funeral home on Argyle Street. Yet, despite all efforts to return the bodies back to their families, only 59 were claimed. Snow with the support of the town, made arrangements to have the remaining 150 bodies buried in three different cemeteries in Halifax: Fairview, Mount Olivet and Baron de Hirsch.
A Duty to Halifax
Just a few short years after the Titanic disaster, Halifax was struck again – this time closer to home. On December 6, 1917, a French munitions ship exploded in the Halifax harbour, claiming the lives of nearly 1,600 people and injuring hundreds more. Again, Snow & Co. Undertakers were overwhelmed with having to prepare the bodies and help plan funerals. They supplied hundreds of pine coffins, many which were stacked up on Argyle street in the days following the explosion. Out of a sense of duty to their profession and to Halifax, they also helped to plan and execute a funeral for the unidentified bodies on December 17, 1917.
– Jane Caulfield