Is this the most haunted place in Canada? The bustling and popular Five Fishermen Restaurant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was once a morgue for bodies recovered from the Titanic. There’s unsinkable interest in the maritime tragedy, even though it was 101 years ago.
The building was first a school, then the Halifax Victorian School of Art run by Anna Leonowens. Before coming to Halifax, Anna was the governess to the children of the King of Siam, which she wrote about in a book, titled “Anna and the King of Siam”. It became a stage show and then one of the most loved musical movies, called the King and I. After Anna left the building, it became a funeral home where John Snow & Co would play a significant part in two of the modern world’s greatest disasters.
On April 15, 1912, the R.M.S Titanic went down off the coast of Newfoundland after hitting an iceberg on her maiden voyage. Rescue operations were run from the nearest mainland port – Halifax. The bodies of some of the wealthier victims such as John Jacob Aster, the wealthiest man on the ship, and Charles M. Hayes, the president of Grand Trunk Railway, were brought to Snows Funeral Home.
On December 6, 1917 two ships in the Halifax harbour carrying dangerous cargoes collided causing a massive blast which killed more than 2000 people. Snow’s Funeral Home housed many of the bodies. In 1975 it became the Five Fishermen, a fine seafood restaurant.
Local historians say ghostly goings on have become part of the restaurant’s history. The restaurant is such a hotbed of activity that many paranormal investigators have arrived with cameras in hand, and yet the business boasts a loyal and constant clientele.
1. A glass flies off a shelf with no one near, and cutlery on a table shifts then falls to the floor by itself.
2. Taps turn themselves on and off.
3. Near the grand stairwell that leads down to the Maitre’d stand, a grey apparition has been seen, a fog-like mass moving down the staircase.
4. The feeling of passing through cold air pockets on otherwise warm nights.
5. Names being whispered or even called out when there’s no one else around, and arguments between people which can’t be traced back to customers or staff.
6. A waiter saw the reflection of an old man, who was tall with long grey hair and was wearing a long black coat. Others saw him too. A couple dressed in the period of the Titanic have also been seen drifting through the restaurant.
Halifax, the capital region of Nova Scotia, is a lively combination of urban and rural living at its best. Governor Edward Cornwallis and 2500 settlers created Canada’s first permanent British town here in 1749, on the scenic shores of the world’s second largest natural harbour. The historic downtown waterfront areas of Halifax and Dartmouth are perfect for discovering on foot, while the other communities around the harbour are accessible by public transit or car.
The Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill is open seven days a week. 1740 Argyle Street, Halifax. (902) 422 4421. For $C42 there’s a three-course meal, and dishes change regularly. The oyster happy hour, mussel and salad bar, and Nova Scotia lobster are particularly recommended.
Graveyard tours of Titanic victims are available. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, housing artifacts from the Titanic, is part of the Nova Scotia Museum. www.halifaxinfo.com
PS: Here’s the statistics of other maritime disasters:
- On January 31, 1945, the Wilhelm Gustloff — designed to hold 1,880 passengers and crew – was carrying 10,000 German refugees, naval personnel and wounded soldiers. They were crammed into every available space: cabins, halls, decks. Astoundingly, four thousand of the passengers aboard were infants, children and youth on their way to the promise of a safer land and away from the Soviet Red Army onslaught. Three torpedoes from the Soviet U-boat slammed into the Gustloff’s side, and the ship went down with 9,400 lives lost.
- On December 20, 1987, the MV Doña Paz collided with another ship off the coast of the Philippines. Only 21 passengers survived the resulting fire and sinking. Though the official death toll was only 1,565, most estimate that over 4,000 passengers perished in the accident; many were not on the ship’s official manifest due to overcrowding.
- The Kiangya, a China Merchants Steam Navigation Company steamer, sank off the coast of Shanghai on November 3, 1948. Casualty estimates vary because of the large number of stowaways, but range from 2,750-3,920 people, most of which were refugees.
- In 2002, the passenger ferry MS Joola capsized off the coast of Senegal, killing at least 1,863. The ferry was designed to hold only 500.
Pictures: Top picture courtesy of The Five Fishermen, and the picture of the Titanic was taken by Associated Press as it steamed out into the Atlantic from Belfast.