A century later, staff and student volunteers at one of Halifax's oldest Catholic cemeteries are working hard to identity some of the Halifax Explosion's unnamed victims.
On the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, the cargo ship Mont Blanc – laden with explosives – collided with the Imo, a Norwegian vessel in Halifax's narrows. About 20 minutes later the ticking time bomb detonated, killing about 2,000 people and throwing the entire city into turmoil.
“The chaos of trying to find family members and trying to identify family members, and then arrange for burial," says Cathy Driscoll-Cainen, co-ordinator of family services for Halifax's Catholic Cemeteries.
In the hours and days that followed, many of the victims were brought to Mount Olivet Cemetery, where more than 300 yellow stakes are on display to represent the lives lost.
But some of the victims have never been identified. Cathy Driscoll-Cainen set out to change that over the summer, with the help of student volunteers.
The student researchers were able to find a record of Johannes Kersonboom, a carpenter on the SS Imo who was killed in the explosion. They also found Kersonboom’s obituary in a Dutch newspaper from Rotterham.
"We have the name of his parents, how old he was, which was not in our records,” says Driscoll-Cainen. “He was only 34 when he was killed and we kind of still don't know why he is here. He must have been a Catholic and someone must have identified him that way and decided he should come to Mount Olivet to rest.”
Last Saturday on Kersenboom's 134th birthday, a memorial mass was held at Mount Olivet for victims of the explosion. That’s where Kersenboom finally received his long-overdue headstone.
"It gives him a name and an identity, and a life that he did have,” says Driscoll-Cainen.
About 35 Halifax Explosion victims at Mount Olivet remain buried in unmarked graves, but that’s changing. Another victim was identified this summer, and her family added a headstone just two weeks ago.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter.