A few weeks ago, I travelled to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island where my group’s tour guide and other educators shared many facts. After hearing a presentation by a poised young Mi'kmaq woman, I learned that archaeologists have uncovered artifacts that prove the indigenous people were present in the maritimes 13,600 years ago. I probably won’t be able to recall that fact weeks from now, but I will remember the young woman’s enthusiasm as she talked about an upcoming class where she’d learn the traditional craft of basket making using black ash. I’ll also remember her inner glow as she shared facts about her people.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the splendid Anne of Green Gables books, lived on Prince Edward Island, and I got to visit her stomping grounds. I won’t remember specifics such as Montgomery losing her mother to tuberculosis when she was 21 months old, or how her father left her in the care of her maternal grandparents, but I will remember walking down the same path where the author sought inspiration for her stories. Lover's Lane, as she named the path, was her favorite place in nature. As I strolled past the shrubs and trees and along a babbling creek, I could imagine Montgomery doing the same. To use a favorite phrase from the Anne of Green Gables books, I indulged in the hope that I could be the author’s kindred spirit.
While in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I learned I was near the site where the Titanic sank. I probably won’t remember that the “unsinkable ship”struck the giant iceberg on Sunday, April 14, 1912, or how long it took her to sink, or that over 1,500 people lost their lives. But I will remember that people brought many of the recovered bodies to Halifax. I walked around Fairview Lawn Cemetery, one of the three cemeteries where they were buried. I viewed plain granite headstones, many of which didn’t have a name, only a number. The image will stay with me. As will the stories of the brave people on board, including the members of the orchestra.
As the ship sank, band leader Wallace Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. Hartley and the band continued to play even as the ship settled quietly lower into the sea.
I’ll also remember the love story of Ida and Isidor. Isidor helped Ida into lifeboat eight. Since they belonged to the elite class, Isidor was permitted to break the “women and children first” rule and join her, but he refused, saying, “I will not go before other men.” Once Ida realized he wouldn’t be joining her, she got back out. "We have lived together for many years,” she said. “Where you go, I go.”
Nova Scotia’s harbor was the site of another tragedy, the second largest explosion in the world, surpassed only by the atomic bomb. Back in 1917, two ships, the Mont Blanc which carried explosives, and the Imo collided in the narrow harbor. I might not remember that the blast killed about 2,000 people and injured 10,000 others, or all the unlucky circumstances that led to the crash, but I will remember how people from nearby provinces and the U.S., especially Boston, helped by sending medical aid and relief supplies.
While touring the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, I learned of another touching story. The museum is filled with facts that include Bell’s accomplishments. I might forget the name of the plane Bell designed, the Silver Bullet, or the exact words of his first telephone message, “Mr. Watson, come here...,” but I’m unlikely to forget that he and his wife, Mabel, who was deaf, stopped whatever they were doing to take one another’s hand at 5:00 daily and walk to their home where they would join their family for the evening.
Alexander died first and Mabel died shortly after. Per Mabel’s wishes, the family held her funeral at 5:00 p.m., the hour when for years she had joined her husband, hand in hand.
No, I won’t remember event dates or the numbers of people affected or many other historic details, but I will remember a proud, young Mi'kmaq woman, stories about brave, unselfish people, and moving love stories. Facts may be forgotten, but feelings remain.